$1.25 Million Olympic Fund Looking to Boost Local Sports for Disabled Veterans and Soldiers

By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

Attention all adaptive sports and physical activity program participants, managers, and directors!  U.S. Paralympics is currently accepting proposals from military, veteran, and other community-based organizations for the $1.25 million 2010 Olympic Opportunity Paralympic Fund.  Providing grants in increments of $10,000 to $50,000, this fund intends to increase and enhance sport and physical activity programs for disabled Veterans and Soldiers.

By providing these grants to programs in local communities, the 2010 Olympic Opportunity Paralympic Fund will enable more wounded Veterans and Soldiers to tap into the benefits of competitive adaptive sports and physical activities.  As a result, the fund will promote increased participation in large-scale Paralympic sport programs at both the regional and national level.

The selection committee plans to grant 50% of the awards to Paralympic Sports Programs and 20% to University-based programs.  The remaining 30% may be awarded to other organizations based on the competitive merit of their submission.  According to the Request for Proposal (RFP) documents, additional considerations will be given to sustainable programs that engage DoD or VA resources that match or provide community support for Paralympic sports such as: alpine skiing, archery, biathlon, cross-country skiing, cycling, shooting (target) or track and field.

The submission deadline is fast approaching.  If you are involved in an adaptive sport or physical activity program serving disabled Soldiers or Veterans, your program director or coordinator should be made aware of this opportunity and encouraged to provide a submission.

The request for proposal details and RFP documents can be found online at http://usparalympics.org/community-programs/2010-olympic-opportunity-fund and all completed applications are due by Monday, August 16 at 8 a.m. M.T.

For more information, please contact Tim Willis, Manager Paralympic Grants, USOC, at 719-866-4536 or tim.willis@usoc.org.

Higher Ground Offers Adventure Camps for Wounded Warriors

A wounded warrior steers the boat amid rough rapids at Higher Ground’s camp in Sun Valley, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Higher Ground.

By Tom Iselin, Higher Ground Chief Executive and Guest Blogger

Editor’s Note: Higher Ground is a participant in the AW2 Community Support Network.

Would you like the opportunity to reenergize your life, reconnect with your spouse, and learn a new sport? Are you feeling a bit down or lonely and looking for a renewed sense of hope and joy in your life?

You can do all of these things and more, at Higher Ground, an adaptive sports and recreation program serving Veterans with injuries. Hosted in the beautiful mountains of Sun Valley, Idaho, and on the pristine beaches of La Jolla, California, we are sure to have a camp that matches your interests. We specialize in serving Veterans with traumatic brain injuries, blindness, visual impairment, PTSD, spinal cord injuries, amputations, and severe burns.

And it is all completely free for you and your spouse to attend! That includes transportation, lodging, meals, instruction, and entertainment. Apply today at http://www.hgvets.org to attend!

Popular activities include: Nordic and downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, fly fishing, water skiing, surfing, kayaking, and much, much more! Each participant receives private customized instruction from certified professionals.

After a day of fun, we cap each night off with entertainment that includes private concerts, comedians, and dinner cruises. We also provide amazing meals that will satisfy any appetite! Accommodations are first class.

Our staff is young, energetic and focused on making sure that your stay is comfortable, meaningful, and fun. Camps sizes are small, with only 6 or 7 couples. We will connect you with Veterans that have suffered similar injuries, who also share many of the same challenges. New friendships are easily formed in our stress-free, supportive, and private atmosphere. Each activity serves as a great time to socialize with your peers and spouse, and release stress you may be facing in your daily life.

Higher Ground is a great adaptive sports organization for Veterans because we are more than just a sports camp! Our goal is to give you the skills to not only build physical fitness, but manage the life changes you’ve experienced since your injury as you reintegrate into your home community or back into military service.

The amazing progress you can make at Higher Ground is not something that’s left behind when you return home. After leaving camp, we will connect you with recreation opportunities in your hometown, and even help purchase sports equipment and pay for recreational services. You will also benefit from the relaxing time spent bonding with your spouse, find increased self-confidence, and become part of a nationwide support network—all to help you rebuild the life you put on hold to serve our country!

Past participants agree that Higher Ground made a meaningful change in their lives. You were willing to sacrifice so much to protect America’s freedom, and the staff at Higher Ground is honored to serve Veterans like you. We look forward to meeting you at Higher Ground!

To apply, contact Bert Gillette, Veterans Outreach Coordinator, bert@svasp.org.

Check out our website, www.hgvets.org for more information!

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Athletes Depart Warrior Games with Renewed Spirit

Airman Stacy Pearsall assists AW2 Soldier SPC Brittany Cosom across the finish line in the Women's 1500m.  Throughout the Warrior Games, athletes crossed the branches of service to celebrate accomplishments and support one another in pursuit of athletic achievement.

Airman Stacy Pearsall assists AW2 Soldier SPC Brittany Cosom across the finish line in the Women's 1500m. Throughout the Warrior Games, athletes crossed the branches of service to celebrate accomplishments and support one another in pursuit of athletic achievement.

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

I can’t believe the Warrior Games are over! This week has been one of the most incredible, inspiring experiences, and I’m so humbled to have spent this time with these great Americans.

During the week, I had the privilege of getting to know many of the Soldier-athletes at the Games. They each offer such compelling stories. One AW2 Soldier competing in the shooting competition told me how the preliminaries set off a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashback. For the first time, this Soldier was able to focus enough to push through the anxiety and continue shooting. On the shot when he experienced the flashback, he missed the target, costing him a spot in the finals. However, he told me that “the lesson I learned today is much more important than a medal – I learned that I CAN control my PTSD.”

Another AW2 Soldier, SSG Jessie White, learned that he should set his goals even higher than the Warrior Games. “I hadn’t thrown a shot put in 20 years,” he told me while awaiting his silver medal ceremony. “The distance I threw today almost qualifies for the Paralympics. And I’ve only been training for a month.”

AW2 Soldier SPC Brittany Cosom demonstrated the importance of accepting assistance Friday morning at the track. After winning a Gold medal in the 100m sprint, SPC Cosom looked strong for silver throughout the women’s 1500m. At the finish line, she cramped up, lost her breath, and allowed Airman Stacy Pearsall to help her across the finish line for bronze. By accepting assistance, SPC Cosom received another medal and demonstrated the Warrior Games spirit of supporting wounded warriors across all branches of the military.

At the pool, the swimming finals were also intense. BG Gary Cheek, Commander of the Warrior Transition Command, and CAPT Key Watkins, Director of Navy Safe Harbor, cheered for all athletes with so much enthusiasm that all fans and athletes took notice. For each medal ceremony, we honored the gold medalists with his or her service hymn. “The Army goes rolling along…” is still ringing in my head!

Army women fared particularly well – immediately after SGT Randi McCartney, MAJ Shawn Morelli, and SSG Erin Layko accepted their medals in an Army sweep of the Women’s 50m Freestyle (TBI/Stroke/Cerebral Palsy/PTSD), they had to take them off and prepare for the 50m Backstroke. And they swept that one too!

At the closing ceremony dinner hosted by the USO, the athletes cheered for both their teammates and the competition during the slide show. As I walked around the room, I noticed that the tables weren’t separated by service; instead, I saw a mix of uniform colors. The athletes showed off medals and challenged each other to a rematch next year.

For wounded warriors, the Warrior Games were so much more than a week of sports. I promised one Soldier that I wouldn’t use his name on the blog, but he summarized the week well: “This is so much more than I ever dreamed. I can take this medal back to my unit and show the guys that, even though I’m a wounded warrior, I can accomplish so much. Sometimes, even more than they can.”

Congratulations again to all the athletes! Thank you for letting me share this experience with you.

Army Wins Silver Medals in Sitting Volleyball and Wheelchair Basketball

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Athletes from Army Platoon 4 pose with their sitting volleyball Silver Medals. Army took Silver in both sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

Athletes from Army Platoon 4 pose with their sitting volleyball Silver Medals. Army took Silver in both sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

Last night’s finals of both sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball were incredible performances by all athletes. And after three days of competition, several Soldiers wear multiple medals—I love the “clink” sound you hear when they walk around.

Sitting Volleyball
Army competed in both the Gold and Bronze Medal Games in sitting volleyball. Army Platoon 4 succumbed to Air Force despite a valiant effort.

In the Gold Medal Game, Army Platoon 3 made an excellent showing against the Marines. They lost the first game, but in the second, they earned their first lead of the match at 16-15. The bleachers rumbled with excitement from the fans, as the crowd erupted in Army cheers. One Soldier even leapt out of the crowd and sprinted around the gym waving a First Infantry Division flag. As the ref announced the game point, Soldiers and Army fans leapt out of the stands, and the Army flag also made several laps around the gym.

Game 3 was close, but the Marines earned an early lead. As the Marines served match point, the cheers changed—instead of “Let’s Go Army!” and “Let’s Go Marines!”, the crowd chanted “USA – USA – USA!”

Athletes in Army Platoon 3 were ecstatic to earn the Silver Medal, and everyone in the room felt a surge of patriotism as the “Star Spangled Banner” was played during the medal ceremony.

Wheelchair Basketball
Army also took home the Silver in wheelchair basketball, and the score didn’t reflect the Soldiers’ performance. While the Marines have been practicing together for a few weeks, most of the Soldiers didn’t meet each other until they arrived at the Olympic Training Center on Monday. In addition, arranging practice sessions was virtually impossible, because most of them are also competing in other sports. However, the team had a new strategy for last night, and they played solid defense. SSG Paul Roberts had at least four incredible defensive rebounds and at least one block, and SPC Craig Smith sank several impressive shots.

“It feels pretty good to win a Silver,” said SPC Michael Ortiz, who posted several rebounds himself. “The first two days were pretty tough since we were all getting to know each other. We had to figure out positions and strategy. Considering that we had to become a team in just three days, we’re proud of our performance.”

Many athletes are already talking about how they want to compete in the Warrior Games again next year. Who knows which AW2 Soldiers will compete in 2011…

Feel free to share your thoughts on Warrior Games athletes through the “Comments” section of the blog. For more coverage of the Warrior Games, visit BG Gary Cheek’s blog for the Warrior Transition Command, as well as the U.S. Paralympics website and the DOD Warrior Games website.

Army Strong in Sitting Volleyball and Wheelchair Basketball

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Photo Caption: SGT David Marklein offers a warm handshake to a Marine during an early sitting volleyball game.  SGT Marklein's sportsmanship embodies the true spirit of the Warrior Games – wounded warriors from all services supporting each other in celebration of the their abilities.

SGT David Marklein offers a warm handshake to a Marine during an early sitting volleyball game. SGT Marklein's sportsmanship embodies the true spirit of the Warrior Games—wounded warriors from all services supporting each other in celebration of the their abilities.

Have you ever seen sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball? These sports require an incredible amount of strategy and endurance. After yesterday’s competitions, all Soldiers should be proud of the Army Warrior Games athletes.

Sitting Volleyball

In sitting volleyball, athletes must have at least part of their hips on the ground at all times. This doesn’t mean they’re stationary, though—athletes bend, lean, and reach at difficult angles to hit the ball across the net. They really have to work as a team to coordinate the shots and find the strategic hits to take advantage of the opponent’s vulnerabilities.

After losing yesterday, all four Army teams played each other in today’s round of the preliminaries—Army Platoon 4 defeated Army Platoon 1, and Army Platoon 3 defeated Army Platoon 2. Today, Army Platoons 3 and 4 will battle for the bronze medal.

AW2 Soldier SGT David Marklein demonstrated great sportsmanship throughout the volleyball competition. SGT Marklein plans to retire this summer, and he sees the Warrior Games as a perfect final chapter to his Army career.

“I’m not sure I’ll even digest this experience until after I’m gone,” he said. “After my wife, children, and grandchildren, this has been the inspiration of my life. We’re surrounded by so many warriors who refuse to quit, and that is what military service is all about.”

Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair basketball is incredibly active and high-energy. The Warrior Games basketball stars really hustle down the court, block shots, steal, and rebound the ball with skill. They shoot free throws, layups, even three-pointers. And they’re not afraid to be aggressive—I was surprised to see them ram their wheelchairs right into the opponents to force a steal.

In the Bronze Medal Game between Navy and Air Force, one Sailor insisted to the ref, “Come on—he wasn’t shooting when I fouled him!”

“Army Strong” was not just a slogan on the basketball court last night. The Soldiers outscored the Airmen 41-12. They were quick with the rebounds, and their great ball-handling helped maneuver around the defenders to create an early lead. Today, the team will face the Marines in the Gold Medal Game.

AW2 Soldier SFC Jacque Keeslar is ready for the fight. “The Marines are good, but it’s going to be an interesting night,” he said. “I think it will come down to who wants it the most. We certainly surprised them on Tuesday—they weren’t expecting Army to be such a challenge.”

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