The 2012 Olympic Games are just months away.  Olympic hopefuls and returning medalists are beginning to appear in advertisements, television talk shows and on billboards across the country.  Their stories of triumph and dedication to the sport is what makes the games so inspiring.  This year USO employees Andrea & Sharee had the opportunity to attend the Warrior Games – an Olympic-style competition that celebrates the achievements and abilities of wounded, ill and injured service members through athletic competition.  Although these games may not be as widely known and recognized by the world, the athletes and the competitions are just as fierce.

[caption id=“attachment_7254” align=“aligncenter” width=“500”] Andrea and Sharee at the 2012 Warrior Games[/caption]

This was Andrea’s first Warrior Games, and for her colleague Sharee Posey, her third.  With all the talk about London, they sat down to reflect on our own Olympic encounter and how the athletes, families and volunteers of the 2012 Warrior Games inspired them.

Andrea: Sharee, what was your biggest take-away from the Warrior Games?

Sharee: The fierce competitiveness that lives within these athletes is just one layer of what the Games are all about.  It’s more than the stadiums filled with chants of “Lets Go Army…lets go!” or the “Hoorahs!” of the Marines, it’s about warriors healing together.  Don’t get me wrong, the rivalries are intense but they will never outweigh the brotherhood and sisterhood these men and women share.  It is witnessed every year at the Games, when a Soldier stops in the middle of a race, giving up his chances of taking top spot, to encourage, and sometimes push, along a fellow competitor.  While winning is the goal, the military creed of never leave a man behind still applies.

My first experience with this was at the inaugural games, when Army athlete and cyclist Jonathon Hosley and Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Will Wilson both literally and figuratively pushed Sgt. Monica Southall to the finish line, neither racer finished in time to claim a medal but crossing the finish line, together, was reward enough for all three.  Later, I had the opportunity to speak with Hosley and asked him about giving up his chance of winning the race and he said, “If we had left her behind then none of us would have won.” It is that very spirit that drives these warriors to complete their mission, whatever it maybe.

Andrea: That is so true!  I have been to so many athletic competitions where you could cut the tension with a knife- but with these rivals, the camaraderie and support for their competitors was amazing! Although we heard the frequent “Let’s go Army” or the intense Navy chants during swimming, at the end of the day, we always heard a “Go USA!”

Sharee: And that truly is the heart of these games, support.  Whether it’s the challenger who gives up his chances of winning to help a fellow athlete cross the finish line, the spouse or caretaker who takes on the added challenges of training, the volunteer who spends the day passing out water and snacks, or organizations like the USO who partner with the U.S. Olympic Committee to sponsor the games, we are all there for one common goal, to support these amazing men and women and their families through their recovery.

Andrea: And their amazing stories of triumph…these athletes have overcome visible or invisible wounds to not only survive, but thrive.  Their energy, enthusiasm and love for the sport is contagious!  I remember when we were at the gold medal game of wheelchair basketball.  It was Army versus the Marines and I didn’t have a favorite, but I found myself on the edge of my chair for every play!  The Army took home the gold that night, but you wouldn’t know it talking to any of the Marines, they were just as excited to be center court receiving their silver medals.

Sharee: We did meet so many amazing people.  During the archery competition I spoke with a young Sailor who had been injured in Norfolk, Va., and suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). When I asked about the incident that caused his injuries he told me he doesn’t talk about it because talking about it makes him remember it more. And when I asked him his name he smiled at me and said, “Crash, that’s what everyone calls me now.”

Crash had just competed and while he wouldn’t talk about how he sustained his injuries, he was more than happy to talk about his love of archery, a sport he never played until he began training for the 2012 Warrior Games.

Archery is a release for him, it was something he can do to take his mind of his injuries, and he loves to compete and to be part of a team.

Andrea: I hope we see Crash at next year’s games.  I look forward to returning in 2013 and cheering on these healing heroes.

Sharee: Me too.  The games are a truly inspiring and unique experience and the athletes continue to amaze me year after year.

To see more photos from the 2012 Warrior Games check out this slideshow by the USO: