Games for true Warriors
The Warrior Games recently concluded in Colorado Springs, bringing together athletes from the various branches of the US Armed Services, including Special Operations, Marines, Army, Air Force, and Navy/Coast Guard.
A total of 220 athletes, men and women, participated in the Warrior Games, which were staged for the second time at the US Olympic Training Center. The event didn’t create a lot of media buzz, and even the most ardent sports fan in your house — say, that lovable 12-year-old who is obsessing over Red Sox stats as you read this — can’t recite the names of the winners.
The Warrior Games are not solely for the wounded, but most of the participants have been scarred by war, be it obvious, such as a lost limb or two, or the more subtle but no-less-crippling psychological pain.
A lot of these athletes already own medals — the kind that too often cost them flesh, bone, or mind — so taking home a trophy or a ribbon or a certificate isn’t really the raison d’etre of these Games.
For the Warrior athletes, it is more about just getting out there to play, or more to the point, just being able to get out there at all.
“A lot of the kids we serve, the first thing they worry about is being able to play with their children,’’ said Charlie Huebner, head of the Paralympics for the US Olympic Committee, to New York Times reporter Dan Frosch, “whether it’s running or playing basketball or just doing what a mom or dad would do. Our whole movement is about the power of sport.’’
The Times story, published last Saturday, is a powerful read, especially in concert with Stephen Nowland’s pictures. If you go there (www.nytimes.com/sports), be prepared for what Frosch describes as the “jarring’’ experience of first seeing physically challenged athletes. For instance, in some of the swimming events, athletes were divided into groups — those who had lost one leg, those who lost both.
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and amid the frivolity of holiday barbecues, family reunions, and welcoming summer to our doorstep, it can be very easy to forget these are the three days when we pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives to protect and preserve our freedom.
On this holiday, with the US engaged in wars and many in our military somewhere else to protect our something here, it’s particularly important to remember all our servicemen and servicewomen, the deceased and the living and the recovering.
In the itsy-bitsy corner of the sports universe, we can pay tribute by supporting the adaptive sports programs made available through the Veterans Administration. Locally, Kelly Cossaboom helps direct a variety of adaptive sports programs for wounded and ailing soldiers. The VA has adaptive sports programs to help them get back in the game, be it surfing or kayaking or other competitive events similar to the Warrior Games. If you want to participate, email Cossaboom (Kelly.Cossaboom@va.gov) today, whether you’re an ailing vet who needs to reconnect with athletics, or you want to contribute your time or treasure to those who gave of themselves so you could savor that hot dog and enjoy that game of backyard horseshoes.
War is nasty stuff with horrifying consequences, anything but a game, something else hard to remember in a time when the video-game industry flourishes with titles such as “Modern Warfare,’’ “Gears of War,’’ and “Brothers in Arms.’’ I am told “COD’’ (Call of Duty) is the most popular among kids right now. I am taking that tip on faith.
As one who grew up on games such as Scrabble, Yahtzee (I still love saying, “Yahtzee!’’), table hockey, and a homemade version of baseball spin-o-rama, with tattered stack of baseball cards in hand, I don’t get the whole video game thing. I especially don’t get war as fantasy, sport, amusement. I wonder and worry about a society that has millions of kids fixated on TV monitors in family rooms, with their electronic gizmos in hand, playing at dropping bombs, firing AK-47s, and dialing up the coordinates to locate the next rice patch on which to spread napalm.
It’s entirely possible that I am dating myself with that napalm reference. If so, I’ll gladly suffer the embarrassment and consider the world a slightly better place.
If there is a young war-video jockey in your house, surrounded by pals screaming, “Wipe those [expletive] guys out — now!,’’ it might do you well to negotiate a brief cease-fire this weekend and call up the Times story on the Warrior Games. Frosch’s text, in concert with Nowland’s pictures, could give your young video cadet a glimpse into the real toll extracted by dropping bombs, squeezing off rounds, and planting those wicked-cool IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
I’ll bet that if your son or daughter is an athlete, and suddenly pictures himself or herself having to play a sport from a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg or arm, all because of war, then he or she might look at life through a much different prism. It could encourage him or her to throw down that hand-held video annihilator and get out of the house and play a game, work up a sweat, dream big dreams.
For anyone who loves sports, it is exhilarating and heartwarming to see the young faces of the Warrior Games athletes, absorbed in competition, looking excited and charged, and finding some healing in the process. But it is also gut-wrenching and sad, because of the underlying truth — that it was avoidable. War is always that way.
The Warrior Games began last year with 187 athletes, and the field grew by some 20 percent this year. The USOC and the Department of Defense have done the right thing, necessitated by all the wrong reasons. In the Olympics, it is a thrill every two years to hear the words, “Let the Games begin.’’ I am sure the Warriors wish their Games never had to start.
Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.