What thoughts come to mind when hearing that a person has any of the following: vision impairment, traumatic brain injury, amputation, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or spinal cord injury?
Probably not an athletic competitor.
Fourteen U.S. Paralympic competitors trained at the Luke Air Force Base Fitness Center May 13 through 17 to prepare for the Desert Challenge that took place May 18 in Mesa.
“This is important because it allows service members an opportunity to compete and realize that getting back into sports or finding sports can be a huge lift in their lives,” said Harrison Ruzicka, retired Army corporal and Desert Challenge Games competitor.
The Desert Challenge Games is a regional competition for individuals with physical disabilities. The event is open to U.S. and international male and female athletes with permanent physical disabilities age 6 through adulthood who are interested in competitive athletics.
The participants training at Luke AFB competed in shot put, discus, javelin; 100-, 200-, and 400-meter wheelchair and ambulatory sprints; and a 1,500- and 5,000-meter ambulatory run.
“We brought the athletes into the environment they will compete in to help them acclimate and get a week of training with national team coaches,” said Kallie Quinn, U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympic Division associate emerging sports program director. “It’s great for our athletes (who are prior military) to train here, because they are able to re-engage with a military community.”
The athletes received guidance from four national team coaches.
“It’s been great to have the paralympic coaches instruct us with their level of training,” Ruzicka said. “It gets better each time I go to camp, and I improve because of the coaches brought in.”
For Ruzicka, participating in events like the Desert Challenge isn’t just about competing.
“I’ve gotten in much better shape since getting involved in these events, as well as meeting others who have gone through similar circumstances,” he said. “We share stories. It makes it easier on me, and I’m sure for some of the others as well to find that community (brotherhood) again that is such a big part of the military.”