The reason I’m going to watch Ross Alewine at the Warrior Games is pretty simple. Everything the Army staff sergeant has done in life has been for somebody else. It’s time he got his own round of applause.
The four Achilles tendon ruptures. The debilitating hip injury. The traumatic brain injury and crushing effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. All that pain and loss, and Alewine still says he would, if he could, return to Iraq and Afghanistan alongside his brothers and sisters.
“In a heartbeat, without a doubt," Alewine said Thursday. "I love this country. I love America. And I do it so my family doesn’t have to.”
That’s why I’m going to watch the Warrior Games that begin Friday at the Air Force Academy. Because we didn’t have to.
“On my last deployment I was in charge of 10 soldiers,” Alewine says, “and I brought 10 soldiers back.”
Roughly 300 wounded, injured or ill athletes representing the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Special Operations, U.K. Armed Forces, Australian Defence Force and Canadian Armed Forces are scheduled to compete in 11 adaptive sports at the Warrior Games. Bring a loud voice, handshake and a tissue, because you’ll need all three.
Each athlete packs a personalized explanation of “why.”
For Alewine, the Warrior Games are a source of inspiration — for others, again.
“Me being there, it shows guys who are in the same spot that I was in, the guys who might not be doing so well after they came back, that you can come back,” he says. “I want them to see that if I did it, they can.”
You can't miss the 6-foot-5, 235-pound powerlifter.
"I'll be the oversized guy trying to pick up the world," he says.
For Army staff Sgt. Altermese Kendrick, motivation comes from her late mother. It was in 2011 that Alice Gladley was diagnosed with a terminal illness, but not until Sept. 9, 2017 that she passed: “Only woman I know who could’ve fought that thing for seven years,” Kendrick says.
Her mom was a “fitness nut” who could wear her original wedding dress after eight kids and almost 30 years. Kendrick competed in the Warrior Games last year, sending photos of her medals back home to Mom: “Every time I do something I send it up to her remembrance,” she says.
Kendrick is registered to compete in seven events at the Warrior Games. Running and jumping cause the most pain in her surgically repaired hip — “I’ve learned pain is only pain” — but wheelchair racing ranks as a close second.
“I learned that the best of me is from my Mom. There’s nothing I do that I don’t think of her,” she says. “She always said she was my biggest fan. I’d like to believe that she’s watching now.”
I’m not as cool as your Mom, staff sergeant, but I’ll be watching.
What about you?
“This is going to be the best Games we’ve ever had,” said Scott Danberg, director of sports for the Warrior Games and a former gold medalist at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field championships.
The why for Beth Grauer of Team Marine Corps is unique, too. She lives in Pueblo. Her personal motivation stems from a desire to climb the ladder and eventually compete in the Paralympic Games. Last year at the Warrior Games she set a personal record in the discus, and this time around she aims to improve her times in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and relay swimming events.
“Everybody has something they can offer somebody else as far as adaptability and recovery,” says Grauer, who returned from tours in Iraq with a TBI and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Her service dog, Calli, a Lab mix, will be at her side at the Warrior Games.
“At night when I have nightmares she wakes me up,” Grauer says.
Admission to the Warrior Games is free. Why they're here wasn't.