An amazing event normally held in Colorado was brought to Camp Pendleton this past Tuesday until March 11th. Once a year all the Wounded Warriors in our armed services (Army Marine Corp., Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations) come out and demonstrate their best. We were fortunate enough to be asked to come support and assist these incredible men who have returned injured from serving our country and are now competing in the U.S. Paralympics.
This weekend a few of our ISP volunteers drove down to Camp Pendleton and spent the day with those men competing in the swimming event. It was such a gorgeous day down by the coast one would almost forget why we were there. We set up concessions for the athletes, met several of the volunteer professional swimmers that donated their time and skills to help these athletes learn to compete with their new disability, as well various Marine personnel.
While things were quiet we were able to watch demonstrations on how they instruct these athletes to swim with their now physical limitations. The Wounded Warrior trainers and therapists stood by the pool working with the highly skilled coaches explaining how they have taught these men and women to dive from the platforms, swim the relays, and even help now blind marines understand when the wall is two strokes away from their turn.
Just prior to the arrival of the athletes this trainer was demonstrating to the coach that this pole is what they tap the back of the swimmer just two strokes before the pool wall so they can reach for the concrete and either turn to continue their laps or touch for time.
We had a chance to chat with one of the female coaches. Our biggest question was “with so many different disabilities, how does the Paralympic committee decide who competes with or against whom”? She broke down how for swimming they are categorized by injury ie: amputation above the knee, amputation below the knee, spinal injury, PTSD, etc. As I met several of the athletes I also noticed several competitors from foreign countries to which she noted that not only does the event include the Corp East and West but also Vets and Allies. Clearly this explained those we met from Colombia, New Zealand, Australia, France and the U.K. but also in other events include Wounded Warriors from Georgia, Germany and the Netherlands.
In addition to the color-coded shirts the athletes wore representing East, West, Vets, and Allies were a few “Invictus Games” shirts. As the story was explained to us Prince Harry came to the U.S. Paralympic games only 2 years ago in Colorado which drove and inspired him to create a similar event to an international audience and hold annually in London. Held for the first time only a year ago and based on his experience and emotional reaction he had watching these athletes overcome such tragedies and compete at the level they were – its’ success proved it will have staying power in the U.K.
The men arrived, probably 50 today out of the over 400 spread across Pendleton today either training for upcoming events or competing that day. One would think that it would be a tragic thing to watch so many young (and some of them were very young), in shape men take off their prosthetic legs and hop across the pool area towards their platform. I would certainly say it was far less tragic than it was inspiring. So many men removing their prosthetics, standing on the platforms, and launching off into a dive like any normal Olympian would. None of them complained, sought pity, discussed anything they “couldn’t” do or were embarrassed of their now permanent disabilities. Instead we saw smiles, heard laughter, typical friendly competitive boy talk, and questions I would ask like, “Coach, what time do we have to be here? Oh that early? The pool will be heated right?…….Okay, then I will just have my coffee at 0500”. Smart men.
As the event wrapped up and the volunteers were discussing the Warriors we met today – one thing was very evident. No doubt everyone was impressed with their attitudes, physical abilities, and what they have achieved in their recovery in such short periods of time, but what really impacted us was how incredibly polite, kind and appreciative they were. Why were they thanking us for our time today? We were just there one day supporting them but here were these men now physically impaired for the rest of their lives for supporting, defending and protecting us every day. Every single one of the athletes – thanking us, shaking our hands, extending their gratitude for taking a day out of our weekend to make these events happen for them. Incredible.
All I can say is the next time you are sitting in the airport and you see that service man or woman please go over and shake their hand. Thank them. They are someone’s son, daughter, Mom or Dad. If you have some extra money and see them ordering lunch at the restaurant you are dining at with some friends, pick up their tab. None of these men today knew they would wind up as a Wounded Warrior and yet their spirits did not reflect what we could only imagine they have been through physically and emotionally.
There is so much we can do for so very little. We thanked them, they thanked us. Volunteer where you can, financially give when you are able to a cause you believe in, and thank those who deserve it.
For those of you who follow ISP and want to help others or teach your kids how to give to others during this Easter or Lenten Season or just because, please see our March/April Campaign & Challenge. It’s so easy to support others and make your days rich and overflowing with gratitude.
Signing off for tonight, it’s been a very long but wonderful day.