The Warrior Games sitting volleyball competition Sept. 28Oct. 4 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, brought together athletes from each branch of the military to battle across the 3’9″ net for all the glory of a gold medal and bragging rights over the other branches. But most of the athletes competing had bigger reasons for making the journey to the home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
I had to make a choice, said retired U.S. Navy Airman Brett Parks in a video interview with USA Volleyball. Parks was shot while trying to break up a robbery at home in Florida in 2012, causing him to lose a kidney and the lower part of his right leg. It was a conscious choice that, ok, Im either going to roll over and die, or Im going to get up and try to better myself in every way I can. So I picked the latter.
Winning is just a perk, one that Parks got to savor with his fellow Navy volleyball players after they defeated the Marines in the final, 26-24, 20-25, 15-6. The two teams had faced off on the first day of competition with the Marines taking that match 25-7, 25-20. Navy’s redemption in the final earned them their first-ever medal in sitting volleyball.
The day before, Army Sergeant Michael Smith, who lost an arm in a motorcycle accident, helped his team take bronze over Air Force 25-20, 25-19. Smith admits that volleyball might not seem like the most logical choice for an arm amputee, but he has found success in it and a community in his teammates.
Every sport that I do, he said, in another USAV video, it’s for myself, but it’s [also] for other arm amputees. It’s to show other guys life goes on. There’s nothing that we cant do. If you tell me that I cant do something, just know that it just got done.
The United States Olympic Committee launched the Warrior Games in 2010 to introduce wounded service members and veterans to adaptive sports and encourage them to stay physically active.
The physical benefits, though, barely earned a mention from the athletes interviewed by USAV. Some cited the exercise as their original motivation for getting involved in volleyball, but not the reason theyve stuck with it.
Sports are very, very key to recovery, said Smith, who also competed in swimming and track and field at the games. Sports bring out that competitive nature in you, so if you carry that over to everyday life, youre going to want to get better; youre going to want to live life. Youre going to want to get back to what you were before.
These guys are fantastic, said retired Army Sergeant Jeremy Blanchette of his teammates and opponents. A lot of them you wouldnt believe the injuries they have, and then to see the things they are doing, it’s amazing. Amazing. You have to see it. I cant explain it; you just have to see it.
Kari Miller, a Paralympian who was named Best Receiver and Best Libero in London where she helped the U.S. team win a silver medal, is an assistant coach for the Air Force team and works with wounded soldiers year-round at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. A military veteran herself, Miller was celebrating her acceptance to officer training school in 1999 when a drunk driver struck the car she was riding in, resulting in the amputation of both her legs.
[The Warrior Games] are about getting all of the guys out here and showing them that they can still be great at something, said the 2009 Paralympian of the Year. That their injuries do not stop them from being the best.