Story by MC2 Charlotte Oliver, Defense Media Activity
Team Navy athletes participated in the Navy Wounded Warrior Walter Reed Adaptive Sports training camp at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) June 10. The purpose of the camp focused on wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and swimming preparing the athletes for the 2017 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games, which kick off June 30 in Chicago, Illinois.
Laughter and music with the intermittent echo of a basketball hitting the court can be heard in the fitness center at WRNMMC in Bethesda, Maryland.
Wheelchairs are lined up courtside as athletes from Team Navy prepare to take the court.
Dan Cashen, basketball coach for Team Navy, runs his team through warm-up drills. Cashen, who was injured in a 2006 dirt bike accident, was introduced to wheelchair basketball just months after his injury and soon fell in love with the sport.
“I had been playing for about two years when my coach was approached by the Navy to do a [wheelchair basketball] camp for the Wounded Warriors,” recalled Cashen. “He didn’t want to do it without an assistant, so he picked me to go with him to help demonstrate and teach the guys how to play.”
Since that camp in 2012, Cashen has been coaching Team Navy for the Warrior Games.
As the team practiced tight maneuvers in specially built wheelchairs, Cashen occasionally stopped the drill and sped onto the court to demonstrate a move such as stopping quickly without the wheelchair skidding.
For some athletes, they are the seasoned veterans of the Warrior Games, while for others this will be their first appearance.
“This will be my fourth time,” said retired Chief Yeoman Javier Rodriguez. “At this level, I love it, I get to come back and give back. In the beginning when I was new, there were veterans who taught me the way and helped me get back into a rhythm.”
Rodriguez, who also competes in adaptive sports outside Team Navy, will be competing in wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and cycling at the 2017 Warrior Games.
“So now I get to give back to the new guys who are here,” said Rodriguez. “I get to motivate them and teach them. I love it and it’s awesome to have these guys who are so motivated. All you have to do is plant the seed of what you’ve learned and they just grab it; it keeps on growing and you let them progress just like how I did when I was new. That is the greatest satisfaction, knowing you’re helping out.”
“This is a special year, we’ve brought a lot of seasoned Warrior Games veterans and Team Navy is hosting this year,” said Cashen proudly looking at his team. “But we have new guys too, so having the guys that this is their fourth time at the games, its made my job a lot easier – they really know how to move their chair well and pass those skills onto the new guys.”
As the team’s practice for wheelchair basketball came to a close, athletes shook hands or embraced in a quick hug before heading to their next practice.
Next, athletes took to the floor, removing their prosthetics as the basketball court was quickly converted to a volleyball court.
Like the wheelchair basketball team, Navy’s sitting volleyball team is made up of veterans and newcomers alike.
Team Navy’s Sitting Volleyball Coach Bailey Wagner quickly got her team together and spilt into partners, veterans with the rookies.
As volleyballs sailed across the court, words of encouragement and advice could be heard.
Bailey switched the team around and rotated members to different positions so every player would become more comfortable in the different spots on the court.
Players worked to perfect their serves, sending serve after serve across the net.
“It’s awesome being here,” said Retired Hospital Corpsman Nate Hamilton. “I miss that camaraderie and it’s pretty cool seeing everyone. Some of us do other events outside the Warrior Games, seeing them in different spots – you always have a friendly face.”
Hamilton will compete in wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field events, and shooting. For Hamilton, it’s not just the competition; it’s the camaraderie and brotherhood he gets to be around again that motivates him.
“When I’m at home, it’s just me and my dogs,” said Hamilton. “But when I’m here and we’re having such a good time, you forget about the pain and what your troubles are. So it’s really an amazing thing that we all try to lift each other up when we’re having a bad day.”
Throughout the day smiles never faded from these athletes’ faces. The athletes departed just to do it all over again tomorrow.
During the DoD Warrior Games, athletes will compete in archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.
Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor is the Navy’s sole organization for coordinating the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors, and Coast Guardsmen and providing resources and support to their families. Through proactive leadership, the program provides individually-tailored assistance designed to optimize the success of the wounded warriors’ recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration activities.