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Seated volleyball keeps wounded warriors on their toes

May 11, 2014 Updated: May 11, 2014 at 10:00 am
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photo - Soldiers competeThursday, April 17, 2014, during the Fort Carson Warrior Transition Battalion's seated volleyball competition at the Olympic Training Center. The soldiers are competing Thursday and Friday in the Commander's Stakes which consists of numerous events including swimming and cycling. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Soldiers competeThursday, April 17, 2014, during the Fort Carson Warrior Transition Battalion's seated volleyball competition at the Olympic Training Center. The soldiers are competing Thursday and Friday in the Commander's Stakes which consists of numerous events including swimming and cycling. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

They have to take it sitting down.

The ball careens wildly over the net and 12 hands stretch for it, but one rule makes reaching it elusive for the team from Fort Carson's Warrior Transition Battalion.

"You have to keep your butt on the floor at all times," explained the battalion's Staff Sgt. Travis Ingersoll as he watched the game at the Olympic Training Center.

Welcome to seated volleyball, one of the games the Army is using to keep wounded troops in motion.

It's part of a program at the Warrior Transition Battalion designed to help soldiers recover from their wounds or be better prepared for a life after their military careers end with medical retirement.

The volleyball matches drew 80 soldiers from the unit to recent games at the Olympic facility, where they were coached by professionals and were judged by eagle-eyed Olympic referees.

The battalion tries to keep its soldiers fit, including those who have lost limbs. Volleyball is part of a training regimen that frequently involves community partners, with wounded soldiers working out at city facilities or sweating at local branches of the YMCA.

But the April games had another purpose: honing elite, injured athletes for worldwide competition.

"We use these for the upcoming Warrior Games," said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Lawrence.

Set for late September in Colorado Springs, Warrior Games draws wounded, ill and injured troops from around the world to compete in Paralympic events. The 2013 games had 200 competitors and some high-level spectators, including Britain's Prince Harry.

Troops from the Fort Carson unit will have a chance to win a spot on the Army's 50-member team for the competition.

But first they have to figure out floor-bound volleyball.

"You'd think sitting on your butt would be easy," joked Master Sgt. Daniel Hendrix during a break from a match between two of the battalion's companies.

In seated volleyball, upper body strength and flexibility is key, with competitors often launching balls with the tips of their fingers.

Hendrix, who served in Iraq with what was then Fort Carson's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, didn't see himself competing again. Once a member of the Army's elite Golden Knights parachuting team, Hendrix was injured in a skydiving accident.

"I had my amputation in March 2013," he said, gesturing to his missing lower leg.

"When I first got hurt, I thought I was doomed to a life of inactivity," he said.

Hendrix said that he is now aiming to compete in wheelchair basketball and seated volleyball at the Warrior Games.

"Adaptive sports is awesome," he said.

Spc. Rosa Holder, who was injured in Afghanistan while serving with Fort Carson's 10th Combat Support Hospital, said the volleyball games play an important role for soldiers who want to stay active, even if they won't compete at the Warrior Games.

She has difficulty moving her arms due to nerve and tendon damage.

But for a few hours, Holder focused on something other than her healing limbs.

"It helps a lot of us, especially people with PTSD and depression," she said. "It keeps our minds busy."

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