Active members and veterans of the US Armed Forces are willing to pay any cost, including the ultimate cost, to defend their country and the people who live on it. Unfortunately, this means that many of them suffer injuries or setbacks that could potentially change the course of their lives; and when that happens, the military branches offer several avenues to help those members advance in the ways they see fit. One important program that many people have benefited from was the Wounded Warrior Games, created by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) in 2010. They are organized by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command. Travis Claytor is the games communications director.
Staff Sgt. Kali Frantz
"Each of the US branches of service plus the US Special Operations Command have what they call the Wounded Warrior Care Program," Claytor said. He further explained that the program helps the wounded, ill or injured members to recover and help them on their road to recovery. They can help members return to active duty if they wish, or the program can help with the transition to civilian life.
“Adaptive sport is one of those programs. Adaptive sports can be part of the recovery journey for these athletes. Each branch of service has an adaptive exercise program that these service members participate in year-round,” Claytor explained.
Travis Claytor has served as communications director for Wounded Warrior Games since 2019 and is excited for the 2022 edition of the games, particularly with an extended absence and an upcoming milestone.
"The athletes who compete are wounded, ill or injured active duty and veteran military personnel," Claytor said. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 games have been canceled but they are returning in 2022. This will be the 10th edition of the competition.”
Staff Sgt. Vito Bryant
The 2022 Wounded Warrior Games will be held August 19-28 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL.
Each branch of service has its own trials to determine the participants who will represent it at the games.
"They have a trial once a year. So anyone interested in this industry can come and try their hand at a particular sport,” Claytor explained. "Typically between 40 and 50 athletes are selected from all sports."
Examples of these sports include wheelchair basketball, indoor rowing, sitting volleyball and many more. Claytor has found that the Games helped educate the public about just how strong and capable these athletes can be. It also shows that not all setbacks involve something physical that happened.
“There is a misconception that wounded, sick or injured means physical harm. Yes, there are amputees who compete and you can see physical wounds, but what a lot of people don't realize is that the overwhelming majority of athletes who compete have invisible wounds," Claytor explained. “They have traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder or even physical wounds that you can't see, like a spinal injury that prohibits them from competing in a certain way. So there is an adaptation to this sport.”
Claytor noted that despite the visible and unseen adversity these warriors endured, the improvement in these warriors is visible and tangible thanks to the pursuit of physical excellence that the Wounded Warrior Games offers.
"Where we're seeing real-time recovery isn't in the physical. It's about the mental and emotional aspects. It's the camaraderie that comes with these games and the ability to come in and compete, sure, but to be with and around their brothers and sisters within the armed forces."
Courtesy of Matt Cable
One athlete who is familiar with the Wounded Warrior Games and will be returning is Matt Cable. The Air Force veteran and two-time leukemia survivor first attended the Games in 2017. After earning seven medals at the 2022 Invictus Games earlier this year, he will be in San Antonio, Texas in mid-July to prepare for the Wounded Warrior Games.
"I'll be busy while I'm there," Cable joked. He will compete in multiple events including track and field, relay, shot put, discus throw, powerlifting, the 1 minute and 4 minute rowing races and more. Cable is used to competing on big stages, having competed in both the Invictus Games and the Titan Games. So this won't be anything new for him.
“I know the events that I will do. So I worked out every day," Cable said. “I go into the competition and make sure I don't have any weaknesses and I'm ready for anything and everything. It's just about preparing my body and my mind.”
While Cable has that athlete and champion mentality, it's not lost on him that the Wounded Warrior Games are of paramount importance. There is also a personal connection for him this year.
"I know how big it is and the athletes that will be there are the top athletes for any industry. It's going to be in Orlando, which is going to be nice, and I have family there. So it's very exciting.”
What Claytor appreciates most about this elite competition is that it pays tribute to incredible athletes like Cable and hundreds of others who will be venturing to Orlando to participate in this year's celebrations and events. It also serves as a call for Americans to be there for members we know will work to overcome adversity because they have done to protect freedom.
“It is important that everyone recognize what these service members have dedicated to our country and it is vital to support them in their recovery journey now. For more information on the Wounded Warrior Games, visit www.dodwarriorgames.com. You can also follow them on Instagram @dodwarriorgames.