Friday, April 16, 2010
Wounded Soldiers Seek Growth at Warrior Games
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
April 15, 2010 - Each of the 200 disabled veterans and wounded servicemembers training for next month's inaugural Warrior Games has demons to battle and obstacles to overcome. After a sniper shattered his upper right leg two years ago in Iraq, Army Sgt. Juan Alcivar's challenge is proving to the Army that he still has what it takes to serve.
"I want to continue serving," Alcivar, an airborne cavalry scout recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. "I think the Warrior Games will help show that I'm still capable physically and mentally."
The games are scheduled for May 10-14 in Colorado Springs, Colo., and will feature Paralympic-style competition for some of the most athletic wounded active-duty members and military veterans the services have to offer. The U.S. Olympic Committee will host the games, and events will include shooting, swimming, archery, track, discus, shot put, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
Alcivar is training for wheelchair volleyball, the discus throw and cycling. He's come a long way since first arriving here for treatment and rehab. The 26-year-old Dominican Republic native credits adaptive sports for his progress so far and for his positive outlook on life.
A little more than a year ago, Alcivar weighed 280 pounds and was struggling to stay active. He was doing well with his recovery, he said, but learning to walk again wasn't enough. He wanted to reach his pre-injury level of fitness.
He participated in Ride 2 Recovery, a nonprofit charity that raises money to get disabled veterans into athletics, in April 2009. The 350-mile bicycle ride across Texas helped Alcivar realize he was more capable than he may have thought.
"I was scared to do it," he said. "I didn't train for it or anything, but when we finished, all I wanted to do was spread the word and tell everyone what I'd done."
Now Alcivar cycles almost every day. He and his Army track and field team train at Walter Reed every afternoon for the Warrior Games. He's now about 50 pounds lighter and wants to be an example for others, he said. The Warrior Games can play a big role in motivating other wounded veterans, he added.
"After I did my bike ride, I just felt rejuvenated, like my old self again," he said. "And that's what a lot of [wounded warriors] want and are trying to get out of the games. They want to feel like themselves again.
"Doing these games and adaptive sports actually makes you feel like yourself again," he continued. "You just have to put yourself out there and take a chance."
Alcivar's teammate Army Spc. Craig C. Smith shares his enthusiasm and also knows firsthand the healing power of sports.
Smith, a soft-spoken 22-year-old from Montgomery, Ala., has been rehabilitating here for about a year. He lost his right leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq in April 2009. Smith always had participated in athletics and was lost without them during the initial weeks of his recovery, he said.
"I've always been into sports, but after my injury, I didn't really know how I'd keep that up," Smith, a combat engineer, said. "It was one of the hardest parts of recovery."
But like Alcivar, Smith kept a positive attitude and worked hard to get his life back. In the past year, Smith has run a marathon and a half marathon, and he plays wheelchair basketball every chance he gets.
"Being here can be depressing, because when I was going through [Army training] and in my unit, there was no 'I can't,' attitude from anybody," he explained. "But when people first get here, just because they're injured, some say, 'I'm not going to' and just have bad attitudes.
"I can't be that person," he said.
Smith will compete in wheelchair basketball and discus at the Warrior Games. Smith also has set a goal to compete in the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London. He said he hopes to use the Warrior Games as a platform to gain some exposure and "get to the next level."
Alcivar said he hopes to qualify to stay on active duty. He won't be able to stay in the Army as a cavalry scout, he added, but hopes he can serve as a broadcast journalist in the Army's public affairs career field.