NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Wounded warriors from around the country met at the Warrior Fitness Center here July 29 – Aug. 2 for the re-vamped Air Force Wounded Warrior Adaptive Sports Camp featuring a variety of physical activities aimed at promoting healing and camaraderie.
The event featured only wheelchair basketball in previous camps, however, past success warranted increased efforts this time around. The increased scope of the event made it a perfect fit for Nellis AFB’s new $25 million Warrior Fitness Center, which offers more than 110,000 square feet of training area.
Among the sports offered to injured veterans and active-duty service members were sit volleyball, wheelchair basketball, swimming, cycling, yoga, target shooting and archery.
“The program is designed to inspire these [service members] to get up, get out and get involved in some exercise programs,” said Larry Bridges, 99th Force Support Squadron sports director. “We’re really glad to be doing this because we know it makes a difference; everybody involved seems to enjoy it a lot.”
The wide variety of activities were selected specifically to introduce wounded warriors to events featured in the Warrior Games, which are held annually and open to wounded, ill and injured service members representing each branch of the military.
While many of the sports offered during the camp are based on the spirit of competition, winning was never the highest priority. Athletes were joined by Warrior Games volunteers from around the country and attended small group clinics where they practiced the fundamentals of each sport building teamwork and camaraderie along the way.
Among the volunteers were coaches who brought valuable experience competing internationally in their respective sports, many of whom were prior service or active-duty service members injured in warzones or at home.
“For me the program has changed my life immensely,” said U.S. Air Force retired Maj. Gwen Shepard, a member of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Air Rifle and Archery teams who shared her skills and knowledge throughout the event.
After a deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003, Shepard returned with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder along with multiple joint issues and has dedicated her post-military life to helping others to recovery through sports.
“I’m so honored and blessed to be able to give back to my fellow warriors because we’re all the same; we’re all healing,” she said.
A favorite among many athletes was the sit volleyball clinic lead by two-time Olympian Kari Miller, a former Army sergeant and current member of the U.S. women’s Paralympic team. After returning from a deployment to Bosnia and short assignment in Korea, Miller was hit by a drunk driver resulting in a collision that took both of her legs.
Standing tall atop two prosthetic legs overlooking athletes sitting on the floor, Miller ran fast-paced drills that created teamwork among strangers and left smiles on the faces of participants.
“It’s all about coming together, having real fun and realizing that we’re not alone,” Miller said as the athletes ran through a hitting and blocking drill. “Having the opportunity to teach the sport that helped me heal means a lot to me; I love seeing them enjoy it.”
Two days of rotating through each clinic and gaining the basic skills finished with a game day where teams were chosen based on the strengths of each individual. Many athletes left the Warrior Fitness Center after the closing ceremony Aug. 1 with new interest in a sport they can pursue for the rest of their lives.
For Steve Otero, a Warrior Games peer mentor and Air Force veteran who now works full-time for the program, events like the Adaptive Sports Camp have a continued positive effect on his life.
“I got out of the Air Force still struggling with the PTSD that ended my career,” Otero said. “But during the time that I’ve been involved with the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, my entire outlook has changed; attending the event this year as a mentor gives me the opportunity to share that feeling with others.”