The Bryant Fitness Center at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., hosted the annual paralympic ‘Desert Challenge Track and Field Training Camp’ May 23, 2021.
The four-day training camp enabled retired, former and current military members to compete in sports and recreation events to potentially earn eligibility and compete in the U.S. Paralympic Games. Luke’s fitness center, selected by the U.S. Paralympic division of the U.S. Olympics, has hosted eight training camps since 2011.
“We have a duty here at the fitness center to support our military members, and we have the resources to do it,” said Antonia Bazan Espinosa, 56th Force Support Squadron assistant fitness and sports manager. “Some of the members did not only serve, but have paid great sacrifices supporting our country. This is an opportunity for us at the fitness center to give back to the members that have given so much.”
Espinosa said she appreciates the Airmen in the 56th Mission Support Group and the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron for providing lodging, transportation and dining facilities for participants, as well as help from volunteers and professional training from U.S. Paralympic Games coaches.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bill Godina, track and field coach, has been a paralympic trainer for over 15 years. Godina has been at every Desert Challenge since the beginning and explained why he supports these athletes.
“It’s fulfilling to be a part of the paralympic training program because our athletes are willing to work so hard to compete after serving our nation,” said Godina. “It’s truly inspiring to see these men and women excel after their military career. Some of these participants are Olympic medalist winners, so the training is always high intensity.”
The paralympics track and field participants have competed with various countries worldwide such as China, Russia, England and Brazil. This summer, the athletes are training to qualify in the National Paralympic events in Tokyo, Japan.
“I love participating in these event because of all the people I get to meet from all over the world,” said Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Gallardo, U.S. Paralympic athlete. “The Desert Challenge brings so many people with disabilities together to share their stories, and show the population that no matter what life throws at you, you can still accomplish anything.”
U.S. Army Lt. Col. French Pope, Secretary of Defense Joint Staff J36 special events manager, supports Paralympic athletes all over the U.S. He explained why it is so important for bases like Luke to continue hosting events like the Desert Challenge.
“At the end of the day, it’s about leaving no man behind, whether it be active duty or veterans past their time in the service,” said Pope. “These athletes come out to represent not only the military but the United States by continuing to fight and showing that they will never quit.”