The Art of Performance: Warrior Games provide healing environment

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By Dr. Keith Wilson

The 2012 Warrior Games recently finished at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. The games provide an important environment for injured military service members to showcase healing in the competitive format of adaptive sports. The competition pits service personnel from the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. This year, Special Operations and the British military also sent competitors.

The spirit of the Warrior Games is highlighted by athletes such as Ryan McIntosh of the U.S. Army. He competed in wheelchair basketball as well as track and field.

McIntosh’s right leg was amputated just below the knee. When competing in wheelchair basketball he does not wear a prosthetic but when in track and field he has a special running leg that has been developed in the last several years.

He received a gold medal for wheelchair basketball. While he competed in three running events, he is best known for the 200-meter race, which he did not receive a medal for.

McIntosh began the race very strong and was running in second place. As he completed about 150 meters of the race, his prosthetic leg caught on the track and he went tumbling. McIntosh kept his perspective of the situation and turned the tumble into a summersault. Somehow he regained his balance and place in his running lane.

In that disastrous moment he was able to bounce back into the running position. Amazing enough, he finished fourth. It did not win him a medal, but it did win him the admiration the athletes and spectators who appreciated his competitive spirit. It was inspiring to see this serviceman demonstrate the never-quit spirit in this competitive event.

This competition is a special event for injured personnel who strive to represent their military branch. The competition is designed to highlight those who have been injured and used adaptive sports as a method of physical and emotional recovery.

When service personnel receive severe injuries in combat it is a long road to recovery. For many it means learning how to live with prosthetic devices. It means being proficient in the use of a wheelchair for mobility and independence. It can mean helping the brain relearn many skills as it recovers from the significant shock of a closed-head injury.

The challenge of the Warrior Games is to give recovering service members a chance to compete against other similarly injured service personnel. Consequently, amputees compete against other amputees. Others compete against like injured personnel.

Competition sports include swimming, archery, shooting, cycling, track and field, seated volleyball and wheelchair basketball. Each sport highlights athletes who overcame significant injuries to play at a high level.

Some who succeed at this level are given the opportunity to compete in the Paralympics, which will happen after the Olympics in 2012. In fact, the U.S. Olympic Committee runs the Warrior Games competition with the same type of rules as the Paralympics.

It is inspiring to see recovering service personnel doing their best to show the level of recovery they have achieved through the adaptive sports program.

The Marines took pride in winning the “Chairman’s Cup” for the third year in a row. They worked hard to put together a 50-athlete team that excelled in all seven sports. Now each service branch can start the work of bringing their strongest teams to the 2013 Warrior Games, where a new group of service personnel will showcase their recovery from injury on the battle field.

Dr. Wilson is a performance consultant in Hardin County and owner of The Wilson Center for Performance. He is performance anxiety consultant to the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.