Air Force Trials take to the track
By Senior Airman Jette Carr, Air Force News Service
/ Published April 30, 2014
4/10/2014 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Shoe laces were tied and prosthetics were adjusted as the injured, ill and wounded Airmen prepared to sprint and throw-down at the Air Force Trials during a track and field event April 8 at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, Nev.
The Air Force Trials give these Airmen a chance to compete in Paralympic-style events. From a pool of more than 100 competitors, 40 will be chosen as members of the Air Force Warrior Games team competing in September at the Air Force Academy, Colo., and another 20 will be selected for a team going to the Invictus Games in London, England. Both competitions are slated to take place this fall.
Out of the seven sporting events offered during the trials, track and field is the largest event with 70 athletes competing in sprints, shot put and discus, said Tony Jasso, the adaptive sports program manager for the Air Force Wounded Warrior program.
To provide an honest and even playing field, each athlete competed in different heats, all based on the Airman's physical abilities.
"Since this is an adaptive sports camp, our program provides opportunities for the sports to be adapted to the service member's disability," he said. "Examples are the 100-meter sprint, where we offer several heats, one being of an open category for individuals with internal injuries, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health (injuries)."
The race sported several other heats such as ones for athletes with below-the-knee amputations, above-the knee-amputations and spinal cord injuries. Some modifications allowed participants to do shot put and discus throwing in either a standing or sitting position.
For those competing seated, chairs specific to the sport were provided, which enabled athletes to strap their bodies to the seat to provide more stability. During the run, Airmen with spinal cord injuries raced each other on the track using sprinting wheelchairs.
"Injury, illness and combat wounds can close doors in our lives, and sports help reopen those doors," Jasso said. "Sports get people out of their comfort zones, gets them out of bed or off the couch, and brings them out of their norms. It gets them sweating, gets them participating, and most importantly, it makes them part of a team in an environment where we encourage sportsmanship -- all obtaining and working toward our goals and supporting one another."
The focus of these games is to build individuals and families by allowing warriors to use sports to enhance their recovery, Jasso said. Each athlete is held to a high standard, and though the events are fitness related, the trials can be as much of a social event as it a physical event. The athletes are exposed to a group of peers with similar injuries or illnesses and they are able to build new support networks with whom they are able to relate.
"This isn't like a national competition," said Senior Airman Gideon Connelly, a crew chief with the 175th Maintenance Squadron in Baltimore, Md. "This is a competition between military, so everybody's still backing each other. Once you get out there in the real world, it's nothing like that. You're on your own. Here everybody's just trying to support one another."
Connelly became an Air Force wounded warrior after he was injured in a motorcycle accident in July 2011, where he lost his left leg. Before his injury, he had been a body builder and during his recovery process, he said he realized he wanted to run again and has since raced in numerous competitions.
Pushing through a recent operation related to an infection in his leg, Connelly ran the trial's track and field event with the help of a prosthetic. He said he currently has Paralympic aspirations and sees the Air Force Trials as a good training ground.
"It gives you something to push for," Connelly said. "There's a goal involved when you do a competition and it gives you dedication and something to work for."
Air Force Trials will continue throughout the week with events in cycling, archery, basketball and more. For further information about the Air Force Wounded Warrior program and events, visit http://www.woundedwarrior.af.mil.