What excites Lt. Col. Danny Dudek most about the upcoming Warrior Games is the realization he will observe from first-time competitors.
“I will see the light bulb go off over the heads just like it did for me the first time,” the Army hand-cyclist and swimmer said. “I will see them realize they can do anything they want to despite their disabilities. It’s inspiration for the entire year.”
The fourth annual event is a month away. About 260 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans are expected to compete for one of five U.S. teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations, as well as a Great Britain squad.
The May 11-16 event at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and Air Force Academy features athletes competing in archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball for gold, silver and bronze medals.
The medals, while coveted, are not the focus. The event is mostly about athletes adapting to their changed lives and excelling as athletes.
“The chance to compete is really exciting,” Air Force Capt. Sarah Evans said. “I am looking forward to getting out there and showing how far I have come.”
Word of other programs and opportunities spreads quickly.
“It was really an eye-opener,” retired Navy operations Spc. 2nd class Joseph Frank said of his first games. “I never would have learned about Sea to Shining Sea (disabled veterans cross-country cycling ride) without the Warrior Games.”
The event can lead to opportunities within Paralympic programs, since several national team coaches volunteer for the games.
Blind swimmer Brad Snyder took home two golds and a silver medal from the 2012 London Paralympics after being noticed at the Warrior Games three months earlier.
“You never know who may be watching and what it may lead to,” Frank said.
Regardless of the results, their efforts are loudly appreciated.
“The competition in the U.S. is so much better because of the support,” said British Army Capt. David Henson, a 2012 gold medalist in 50- and 100-meter freestyle swimming. “Over here, we tend to be a little quieter, but over there they cheer loudly for us even when we are playing against them,”
The expected participation of Prince Harry in the invitation-only opening ceremony adds to the event’s prestige, Henson said.
The high point for Dudek is the camaraderie.
“We all know the Marine, Navy
Coast Guard and United Kingdom athletes and we all root for each other to be successful even if they are competing against our services,” he said. “We keep in touch with each other via email and challenge each other throughout the year. It is a phenomenal event. I am almost addicted to it.”