They moved with speed and confidence and if the announcer had not said the race was for the visually disabled, I would not have known one runner from each team was completely blind. And then came the races whose competitors had lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some ran on prosthetics, some raced using special cycles. Inspiring seems to be a feeble word, considering all they have endured, but that is what they were. And such was my first introduction to the Warrior Games, held at the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
The thought kept racing through my mind that more people should be seeing these extraordinary feats. The half-empty stands were peppered with family members (many flown in by Fisher House) and service members in the area who came to cheer. And the events were free for anyone to attend. Yet, where was everyone?
There is a commonly known disconnect between the civilian and military population. I am not a military spouse or brat or anything. I am just a civilian who is lucky enough to work for a great organization that helps military families. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say it is sometimes intimidating to walk among the fine men and women of our military. That’s how much respect I have for their willingness to lay down their lives if called to do so by their country. Because of that, I want to find large and small ways to “support our troops” but don’t always know how.
That’s where the power of the Warrior Games lies. Who doesn’t want to witness a blind double-amputee swimming the 50-meter freestyle, brushing the lane lines with his arm as a guide? Who wouldn’t be amazed by those who compete in shooting using arms they cannot feel? Who wouldn’t cheer for a young man who’s missing an arm and competes wearing dog tags with pictures of friends he lost because he knows they no longer have the opportunity? And the list goes on.
These are living patriots who deserve hours of cheers and applause. Not just because they push hard to challenge themselves in spite of their circumstances. But because they are visual reminders of those who willingly experience, first-hand, the ugliness of war. They are walking, rolling and limping testimonies of a generation who loves their country enough to die for it.
Why weren’t there more people to watch? I don’t know. But if you’ll help, let’s spread the word to civilians and military friends and encourage them to attend events like these. In fact, Armed Forces Day is just around the corner. Here in San Antonio, we have a Riverwalk parade and Operation Homefront is hosting a free concert. Our Hampton Roads chapter is hosting a local celebration. You can Google other for other related events. Not only will they cheer from the heart but I believe they will be deeply impacted. And when the national anthem plays or military anthems are sung, we’ll all stand together…as Americans.