SPC Robert Nuss captured three medals and SPC Chris Strickland added a fourth to lead the Fort Benning contingent at the inaugural Warrior Games, held May 10-14 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The paralympic military event, created by the Department of Defense and U.S. Olympic Committee, featured more than 200 competitors from all branches of the military. It was open to troops with upper or lower body injuries, spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nuss won gold in the 100-meter dash, silver in sitting volleyball and bronze in the 1,500-meter run. The 23-year-old also finished second in “Ultimate Warrior,” a challenge in which athletes accumulated points in shooting, track and field, swimming and volleyball.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to come back with something to show for all the time and effort and dedication,” said Nuss, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a training event on Fort Benning. “I knew how hard I trained, and I was confident in myself. With my competitive nature and hard work, I knew I’d be able to make a good showing out there.”
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Strickland was a member of the same silver medal sitting volleyball team, which fell to the Marine Corps in the championship match.
SGT Matthew Harvey played on a different sitting volleyball team and competed in shot put and swimming but did not place. At 55, SSG Ruben Rosas-Rodriguez — wounded last year by shrapnel from a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in Afghanistan — ran in the 1500.
SFC Ronald Black, who coached the four Warrior Transition Battalion Soldiers, assisted by SSG Danny Hill, said Fort Benning turned in a solid performance.
“It was excellent, especially since it came in that high altitude,” Black said. “They only had two days to get acclimated … (but) they stayed positive throughout. They represented Fort Benning and the Columbus community very well.”
Strickland, 23, who lost his lower right leg after a motorcycle accident in 2008, said he didn’t want to go at first but went at the urging of his grandfather, Kenneth. The elder Strickland passed away May 6, four days before the squad left for Colorado.
“He encouraged me to take part. I wanted to bring home the gold, but the Marines got it away from us,” Strickland said. “It’s amazing, because the only thing I know how to do is combat. (As an injured Soldier), I never thought I could go to a competition like this and win a medal. I think they ought to do this with all the WTBs.”
Nuss said he often battles migraines — the altitude and crowd noise at the Warrior Games made the headaches worse — but determination helped him work through the pain.
“The competition wasn’t easy at all … but I don’t think anyone trained as hard and wanted it as bad as I did,” he said.
Still, finishing runner-up in the “Ultimate Warrior” challenge is the worst thing that could’ve happened — to the rest of the field, Nuss said.
“It just gives me a stomach full of rage to train harder than I’ve ever trained before, and it will show next time I race,” he said.
Black said he hopes to take the same quartet to another paralympic event next month in Oklahoma.
All four WTB Soldiers were set to receive an award Thursday from the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities at the Government Center in Columbus.
Other events at the Warrior Games included archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball and discus. Track and field took place at the Air Force Academy, while the Olympic Training Center served as venue for everything else.