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Active members and veterans of the United States Armed Forces are willing to pay whatever cost, including the ultimate one, in defense of their country and the people that live in it. Unfortunately, this means that many of them suffer injuries or setbacks that could potentially alter the course of their lives going forward; and when that happens, the military branches offer several ways to help those members move forward in whatever way they see fit. One major program that has benefitted many people has been the Wounded Warrior Games, which was established by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) in 2010. It is organized by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command. Travis Claytor is the director of communications for the Games.
“Each of the US Service branches plus US Special Operations Command have what they call the Wounded Warrior Care Program,” said Claytor. He went on to explain that the program serves the wounded, ill, or injured members to help them recover, to help them through their recovery journey. They can help members return to active duty if desired, or the program can help with the transition to civilian life.
“Adaptive sports is one of those programs. Adaptive sports can be a part of the recovery journey for these athletes. Each service branch has an adaptive sports program that these military members participate in on a year-round basis,” Claytor explained.
Travis Claytor has been the director of communications for the Wounded Warrior Games since 2019, and he’s excited for the 2022 edition of the Games particularly because of an extended absence and an upcoming milestone.
“The athletes who compete are wounded, ill, or injured active duty and veteran members of the military,” said Claytor. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Games were canceled in 2020 and 2021, but it is returning in 2022. This will be the 10th edition of the competition.”
The 2022 Wounded Warrior Games will be held at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, from Aug. 19-28.
Each service branch has their own trials to determine the competitors that will represent them in the Games.
“They have tryouts once a year. So, anyone in that branch that’s interested can come and try out in a specific sport,” Claytor explained. “There are usually between 40 and 50 athletes chosen across all sports.”
Examples of those sports include wheelchair basketball, indoor rowing, sitting volleyball, and many more. Claytor has found that the Games has helped educate the public on just how strong and capable these athletes can be. It also shows that not all setbacks involve something physical that happened.
“There’s a misconception that wounded, ill, or injured means physical injury. Yes, there are amputees competing, and you can see physical wounds, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority of athletes competing have invisible wounds,” Claytor disclosed. “They have traumatic brain injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or even physical wounds that can’t be seen such as a spinal injury that prohibits them from competing a certain way. So, there’s an adaptation to that sport.”
Claytor made note to share that in spite of the visible and invisible adversities that these warriors have suffered, what can be seen, and felt, is the improvement of those warriors thanks to the pursuit of physical excellence that the Wounded Warrior Games provides.
“Where we see recovery in real time is not the physical. It’s with the mental and emotional aspects. It’s the comradery that comes with these games and the ability to come in and compete, sure, but be with and be around their brothers and sisters within the Armed Forces.”
One athlete that is familiar with the Wounded Warrior Games and will be making his return is Matt Cable. The Air Force veteran and two-time leukemia survivor first competed at the Games in 2017. After scoring 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’m going to be busy while I’m there,” Cable joked. He will be competing in several events, including track and field, relays, shot put, discus, powerlifting, the 1 minute and 4-minute rowing races, and more. Cable is used to competing on big stages, having been in the Invictus Games as well as the Titan Games. So, this will be nothing new for him.
“I know the events that I’ll be doing. So, every day I’ve been training,” said Cable. “I’m going into the competition making sure I have no weaknesses and that I am ready for anything and everything. It’s just a matter of getting my body and mind ready.”
While Cable has that athlete and champion mindset, it’s not lost on him that the Wounded Warrior Games has a level of significance that stands out. There is also a personal connection for him this year.
“I know how big it is, and the athletes that are going to be there are the top athletes for each branch. It will be in Orlando, which is going to be nice, and I have family there. So, it’s very exciting.”
What Claytor appreciates the most about this elite competition is that it pays homage to incredible athletes like Cable and the hundreds of others that will venture to Orlando to be a part of this year’s festivities and events. It also serves as a call for Americans to be there for those members we know that will be working to overcome adversities because of what they did to protect freedom.
“It’s important for everybody if nothing else to recognize what these service members have dedicated to our country, and it’s vitally important to support them now in their recovery journey. For more information about the Wounded Warrior Games, go to www.dodwarriorgames.com . You can also follow them on Instagram @dodwarriorgames .