Editor’s note: These stories were produced by the Department of Defense and published here as part of a partnership with Military Times.
More than 200 athletes will come together at Naval Air Station North Island in June for the 2023 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games, continuing an annual tradition of recovery through adaptive sports.
The DoD Warrior Games was introduced in 2010 as an annual adaptive-sports competition to support wounded, ill, and injured military members and veterans. Since then, thousands of men and women representing the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and U.S. Special Operations Command have competed in this elite-level sports competition.
But the mission of the DoD Warrior Games, and the athletes’ journeys, is much more complex than most realize, and adaptive sports is at the heart of it all.
Adaptive Sports Basics
Adaptive sports are any sports that are modified to allow people with physical or mental disabilities to participate. Think through just about any sport, and there’s sure to be an adaptive element that has been applied. Some of the most common examples include many of the sports found at the 2023 DoD Warrior Games, including wheelchair basketball, swimming, cycling, track, and field.
Other sports may surprise you. Warrior Games athletes also compete in wheelchair rugby, powerlifting, rowing, and sitting volleyball. There are also visually impaired athletes competing in precision shooting, and amputees hitting bullseyes in archery. The skills of determine of these athletes are second to none, making adaptive sports the perfect recovery support system.
Adaptive Sports and Recovery
Adaptive sports have a long history across the globe and in the United States, dating back to the late 1800s with the founding of the first Sport Club for the Deaf in Berlin, Germany. The adaptive sports community began to take hold in the United States a few decades later with the introduction of wheelchair sports in the 1940s.
Adaptive sports later became an important element in the rehabilitation of veterans from World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War. Now in 2023, the adaptive sports featured in the DoD Warrior Games are a part of the larger DoD Warrior Care programs.
Within these programs, adaptive sports provide reconditioning activities and competitive athletic opportunities to all wounded, ill and injured service members to improve their physical and mental wellness throughout the continuum of recovery and transition.
Through adaptive sports, these wounded warriors embrace the very fighting spirit that has driven them their entire lives. Each of these athletes are proof that obstacles can be overcome and adversity is something to be conquered.
The Adaptive Sports Journey
Many times participation in the Warrior Games represents the culmination of a service member’s involvement in an adaptive sports program and demonstrates the incredible potential of wounded warriors through competitive adaptive sports.
Athletes like Staff Sgt. (ret) Joel Rodriguez with Team Army, who was injured in a vehicle crash, has competed in multiple Warrior Games events and will be coaching Team Army in the 2023 DoD Warrior Games, has seen his recovery journey come full circle. While his recovery journey will be ongoing, he is now leveraging the power of adaptive sports for his recovery and to help others through their journey.
The 2023 DoD Warrior Games is one more step in the recovery journey for the more than 200 athletes who will compete, and through their efforts they represent the tens of thousands of recovering service members and veterans across the globe.
The Warrior Games takes place from June 2-12, 2023 and will be livestreamed at www.DoDWarriorGames.com.