Warrior Games Day 5: Wheelchair athletes play without fear
I’m not sure what everyone else envisions when they think of wheelchair basketball, but it was nothing like I pictured in my head. Apparently, someone forgot to tell the athletes at the Warrior Games that they are wounded warriors in wheelchairs. By the way they flew around the court slamming into one another, they apparently think they are invincible and have no ailments.
The amount of athleticism and technique involved to play wheelchair basketball is absolutely dumbfounding. Not only do the athletes have to propel themselves around the court with great agility, they have to do so while dribbling the ball, shooting, passing, setting screens and executing plays. What is even more amazing is some of the competitors only have one hand. And did I mention it is physical? I was amazed no one snapped a wheel chair in half. Over the course of the games, I watched athletes crash into one another, flip over upside down (numerous times), tumble across the floor on their side and catapult out of their chair (despite being strapped in).
I even watched one Army player get knocked out cold after crashing head first into the floor. He later wheeled to the bench under his own power, but sat out the rest of the game. And did I mention the skill and technique the athletes have? The men and women who competed are not casually cruising around in their wheelchairs taking random soft shots. They use aggressive tactics to set screens, plan shots and execute plays. But hey, don't take my word for it. Here is the gold medal game between the Army and the Marine Corps.
The Army easily dominated the wheelchair basketball and won the gold medal. There was no other team that really compared, unlike the sitting volleyball which was not so cut and dried. While the Army and USMC came out of the gate strong, they seemed to lose a bit of ground throughout the games. Midway through the week, Army lost a game to the British team, and the Marines lost a game to the Navy/Coast Guard team. Speaking of the British team, I managed to catch up with a couple of their players to see what they thought of the games. They expressed that they were treated with the utmost respect, and that they were really enjoying their first Warrior Games. Hopefully their participation this year is the first of many years to come.
In no other sport at the Warrior Games was team pride more evident than the sitting volleyball. As we packed into the crowded, sweltering Air Force gymnasium night after night, the entire room took on the decibel rating of a passing Blackhawk Helicopter. With two games simultaneously playing at all times, there was never a moment when the crowd was not in a constant uproar. Everyone was there to represent their military branch and cheer on their team. Nowhere else in the games was this pride more evident.
As with every other competition over the week, the fact that many of the athletes were missing lower limbs seemed irrelevant. Volleyball competitors repeatedly made incredible saves despite disfigurement and other hindrances. When you think of volleyball, one typically thinks of a methodical game of volleying with careful setups leading to a spike against the other team. Sitting volleyball? Not so much. Played on a much smaller court (due to the lack of player mobility) with a much lower net, the pace was incredibly hasty at times, requiring lightning quick reaction speeds. The pace was more akin to table tennis than volleyball, and crowds were constantly on edge.
Despite best efforts by other teams, the Army and Marine Corps competed in the gold medal round. In an upset from last year, Army defeated the Marine Corps two games to one.