Wounded warriors may find a berth as Paralympic hopefuls in the 2012 Paralympic Games. The U.S. Olympic Committee held a Paralympic Military Training Camp at Fort Benning Nov. 1-5. The event, hosted by the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, brought in wounded warriors hand-selected from across the Army to identify those who may have what it takes to compete in paralympic shooting.
The camp is one of several held nationwide to bring together veterans and wounded service members in order to introduce a variety of summer and winter sport opportunities. Participants attend sports clinics conducted by paralympic athletes and coaches. The paralympic military sports camp is the third held this year, with camps also hosted in Newport, R.I., and Chicago.
“The goal is to develop these athletes,” said Kallie Quinn, manager for the U.S. Paralympics Emerging Sport program. “We want to take sports and enhance rehabilitation and improve quality of life for injured and disabled service members and veterans. Shooting seems to be one those activities many veterans identify with.”
The U.S. Paralympic Team, a division of U.S.O.C., is partnered with the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.
The participants were invited because they showed potential and Quinn said she anticipates a few may have a shot to make the paralympic team in the next year and a half.
The shooting camp serves as a recruiting platform for the U.S. Paralympic Team, which wants to tap into the pool of injured military veterans with marksmanship skills, she said. The camp included four days of training and shooting sessions at the Poole Indoor Range using air rifles, air pistols and special equipment to accommodate participants who were wheelchair bound or missing limbs. The participants received hands-on training from USAMU Soldiers, paralympic coaching staff and professional shooters, including Olympic air rifle and small bore competitor Jamie Beyerle, who competed in the 2008 games in Beijing.
Beyerle spent Wednesday showing participant Greg Reynolds how to shoot air rifle. Reynolds medically retired from the Army in 2009 following a vehicular accident that nearly claimed his life. He overcame a less than 8 percent chance of survival after a car ran a stop sign and struck his motorcycle in 2008. Today, Reynolds, who lost his left arm in the accident, is a motivational speaker and is pioneering a new paralympic event: the one-armed dumbbell chest press.
Reynolds, a combat veteran who served with the 4th Infantry Division’s 102nd Transportation Battalion, said he learned about the shooting camp through the Veterans Affairs rehabilitation facility near his home in Boston.
After attending several sport clinics and camps, Reynolds said they have had a “crucial, monumental part” in his recovery.
“They helped me realize I can still live an active and athletic life,” said the athlete. Reynolds practiced with the air rifle using a custom tripod screwed into its base to keep it upright. The equipment is similar to what one-armed paralympians use and does not offer any additional advantage to keeping the weapon steady, said SFC William Keever. Keever has been tapped as the platoon sergeant for a new paralympic section the USAMU is developing.
The section, to be composed of up to 12 Soldiers, would compete in paralympic shooting events. The concept plan is awaiting approval at the Department of the Army, said USAMU officials. If approved, the USAMU could begin recruiting qualified active-duty Soldiers as early as next year.