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Competitors outshine Prince Harry, celebrities at Warrior Games opening ceremony

May 11, 2013 Updated: May 11, 2013 at 6:20 pm
photo - . (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
. (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

The celebrities at Saturday's Warrior Games opening ceremony in Colorado Springs were the 260 wounded troops who will compete this week.

Their cheering section included the likes of Britain's Prince Harry and Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin and Misty May-Treanor.

The games, for injured and ill troops, kicked off Saturday with a private opening ceremony full of pomp and circumstance.

The applause the competitors received was louder and longer than that received by dignitaries.

'We win by being in your presence, ' Colorado's U.S. Sen. Mark Udall told competitors during his opening-ceremony speech.

Competitors have suffered medical setbacks but come 'all the way back and are prepared to compete again at the highest level, ' he said.

Thousands of troops have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. But joyous reunions have been tempered by the reality that not all soldiers come home whole, Colorado's U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said at the ceremony.

'We must do more for them, ' he said.

Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told competitors that they're the nation's 'best of the best. '

On his toughest days, 'I just think of you and my day suddenly becomes a very nice day, ' he said.

Winnefeld also thanked competitors' family members, especially the spouses and parents who serve as caregivers to their wounded warriors.

'It is very hard work, and you are often overlooked, ' he told them. 'You are very special people. '

Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division Band played as teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations and British Armed Forces walked and wheeled their way into the Olympic Training Center's courtyard. Supporters cheered from their seats and through the open windows of dorm rooms surrounding the courtyard.

Drizzle threatened to delay the ceremony but didn't dampen the spirits of the hundreds of family members, friends, fans and volunteers in attendance.

As the rain came down, Army Col. Tom Rogers and Army Col. Pat Ahearne sat exposed to the elements, waiting for the ceremony to start.

The two deputy commanders at Fort Carson's Evans Army Hospital had weathered worse conditions and weren't about to lose their seats on account of the rain.

The duo said they planned to cheer on Army throughout the week but want everyone to succeed.

'We'll cheer for the Air Force Academy when they're not playing Army, ' Ahearne said with a laugh.

Twenty minutes before the ceremony's start, rain ceased and clouds scattered.

Saturday's ceremony held special significance for Jacki Druckemiller, mother of wounded Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Dayton.

There was a time when Druckemiller thought that Dayton, would never run again.

A 2007 ship accident left the former track and field star with burns over a fifth of his body.

Dayton will be on the track Monday, as he has at the past two years' Warrior Games. He'll also compete in sitting volleyball and archery.

Druckemiller will have a front-row for seat for it all.

It's a heck of a Mothers Day present, said Druckemiller.

'I am beyond-words thrilled, ' Druckemiller said after the opening ceremony. 'This is the best Mother's Day present I could get from him. '

This year Dayton hopes to aid the Navy/Coast Guard archery team in bringing home another team medal.

'You're definitely not out of the fight, ' he said. 'You have plenty more to give. It may be bad, but it's never that bad. '

The games are also open to troops whose illnesses and injuries are not service connected. The first Warrior Games were held in 2010 to introduce wounded warriors to Paralympic sports and encourage them to stay physically active.

This year's games run through Thursday and include archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.

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