More than Fun and Games
Army athletes celebrate a medals sweep in the women’s cycling competition.
This year, that treatment will get royally amped with the arrival of a special guest, Prince Harry of Wales.
“His attendance is really a tribute to the young men and women who’ve served,” says Charlie Huebner, the U.S. Olympic Training Center’s chief of paralympics.
The games, set for May 11 to 16 at both the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center, will host approximately 260 wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans who will compete in seven sports over the six-day period: archery, cycling, shooting, sitting-volleyball, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. Five U.S. teams will represent the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations, and one international team will represent the British Armed Forces, thus Harry’s appearance. The royal family member will attend the invitation-only opening ceremony on May 11 as well as several of the public competitions on May 11 and 12.
The U.S. Olympic Committee has been working with England’s Royal Foundation for the past year on a shared mission to develop community programs for wounded vets and others with physical disabilities, and Prince Harry hopes to show his personal commitment to the cause.
“His involvement will create enhanced awareness of the games and their impact,” Huebner says.
That awareness, Hueber believes, makes a huge difference in the lives of those with disabilities.
“What happens when the athletes go home is more important than what happens in the games,” he says. “They take home the message about the great need for physical activity for people with disabilities, especially for those who’ve served their countries.”
Since the Warrior Games started, hundreds of organizations have joined that mission, spreading the idea that sports can help the wounded – mentally as well as physically.
“The Warrior Games have helped catapult that message throughout the nation,” Huebner says.
Air Force Maj. Scott Bullis, who’s stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, has experienced firsthand what the Warrior Games can do for one’s health and self-image.
He coached the Warrior Games’ Air Force cycling team in 2010 and 2011.
Then in 2012, he was deployed to Afghanistan and was seriously injured. “A rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle I was driving,” he says. He suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Bullis could no longer maintain his balance on the bicycle. But he trained on a recumbent bicycle and competed last year. He’ll ride again this year.
“Before, as a coach, it was one thing,” he says. “It was amazing to watch athletes come out, not knowing they could do something and finding out they could. You can see it helping in the healing process, knowing they can compete, that they have skills.”
Now that he’s a competitor, Bullis sees it from a different perspective.
“As an athlete, I think the most important thing is that it gives me something to focus on other than things that aren’t as they were before,” he says.
For spectators of the Warrior Games, the focus tends to be on both the feats of these amazing athletes and the arrival of high-profile guests. Last year’s big guest was First Lady Michelle Obama.
This year’s guest, Prince Harry, is certainly generating tons of buzz in Colorado Springs. Maybe that’s because the handsome 28-year-old, third in line to the British-throne, is considered one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. It’s a reputation fueled by his latest escapade in Las Vegas, where nude photos of him and a female companion went public after an apparent game of strip billiards.
You can even hear the Harry buzz on the tracks and fields where athletes have been training for the games.
“Some of the folks on the team are pretty excited about it,” Bullis says. But if there are lines for Harry’s autograph, don’t expect to find Bullis in them. “I’ve been deployed multiple times to Korea, Afghanistan,” he says. “We combat-hardened guys don’t tend to give a lot of attention to all the famous people and what not.”