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Officials announce Warrior Games 2011

WASHINGTON — Some 200 disabled active-duty service members and military veterans will compete in the second annual Warrior Games, scheduled to be held May 16 to 21, in Colorado Springs, Colo., officials announced today.

The U.S. Olympic Committee will host the games at the Olympic Training Center for the second year. The events will include shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

The Army will be represented by 100 competitors, chosen out of a pool of more than 9,000 active-duty Soldiers recovering in Warrior Transition Units. The Marine Corps will send 50 competitors, the Air Force will send 25, and the Coast Guard and Navy will combine to send 25.

The Department of Defense, USOC and the USO hope to build on the inaugural games’ success, helping to prove to even more wounded warriors the true healing power of sports, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Pentagon news conference.

“When we focus on ability, rather than disability, we see that physical fitness and sports can have a healing effect on the mind and on the body and on the soul,” Adm. Mullen said. “The athletes that compete in the Warrior Games demonstrate that regardless of circumstance, physical fitness and a passion to win remain at the core of our military culture.”

Adm. Mullen said he hopes more wounded warriors will compete for a spot in Colorado Springs.“The response to our inaugural Warrior Games was truly outstanding. We look forward to an even better experience next spring,” he said

Mr. Charlie Huebner, chairman of USOC’s Paralympics Committee, echoed Adm. Mullen’s remarks, saying the competition and drive the athletes showed at the inaugural games in May was an inspiration to all athletes and disabled people.

“I’ve been to a lot of sporting events ... but I’ve never felt more intensity, more emotion and more competitive spirit in my life at a sports event,” he said, recalling an Army-Marine Corps sitting volleyball match that came down to the wire. “We see it every day in the Paralympics movement, the incredible power of sports.”

Sports, Mr. Huebner said, give those who’ve suffered disabilities a “second chance,” whether it’s pursuing Paralympics dreams or simply playing basketball with friends in their community.

“Some 200 injured service members who came to Colorado last year got to feel that magic; the power to heal, the power to compete and the power to dream,” he said. “They were touched by that at the inaugural warrior games, but the impact of these games, more importantly, is what happened when they went home.”

Ms. Stacy Pearsall, a retired Air Force staff sergeant who was injured in Iraq, found inspiration in her fellow competitors at the inaugural games. She recalled the efforts of retired Marine Lance Cpl. Chuck Sketch.

Mr. Sketch lost his sight in August 1997 from a brain tumor, and then had to be amputated from the waist down in January 1998 due to complications from the same tumor. His inaugural game events were swimming.

“The one thing that really got me going was seeing a Marine, blind and a double amputee, swimming,” Ms. Pearsall said. “I thought, man, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ It made me much more motivated in my recovery.”

Warrior Games 2010 was so successful and had a such a positive effect on the wounded warrior community that the field of athletes next year is likely to be even more competitive.

The competition is open to military members and veterans with bodily injuries as well as mental wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Like the inaugural games, athletes will be recruited from each of the military services, including the Coast Guard, through an independent selection process. The games itself won’t be much different than last year, but the competition may be a little more challenging.

The Army and Marine Corps are already holding preliminary competitions, surely to strengthen their chances at gold.The inaugural games was sort of a “feeling out” process, said retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson, who lost his lower left leg in Iraq four years ago.

“A lot of the athletes will come out in broader spectrum this time,” Mr. Gibson said. “That’s what the Marine Corps is going to do. We’re going to have competitions leading up to this stuff. We’re going to do what we naturally do. We’re going to train to compete.”

“We want our best athletes out there, but we want more athletes to come out of the wood works and work their butts off to get there,” he said.