COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – The joint U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Warrior Games team joined more than 200 other wounded warriors to kickoff the 2012 Warrior Games April 30.
The opening ceremony was held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and featured speakers First Lady Michelle Obama and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
In its third year, the Warrior Games is an Olympic-style event open to armed service members who were injured while serving on active duty. The USSOCOM team is comprised of 31 Special Operations athletes from across the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The team will compete against athletes from other service branches including the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces.
The ceremony began with the march of the athletes along the Olympic Path, where hundreds of spectators cheered as the Olympic torch was passed from team to team. U.S. Army veteran Melissa Stockwell and Royal British Marines Capt. Simon Maxwell were honorary torch bearers, ascending to the top of the Olympic Training Center where they lit the symbolic Olympic cauldron.
The torch was passed to the pair by U.S. Army Capt. Ivan Castro, who served as torch bearer for the USSOCOM team. Castro was assisted by fellow Soldier, 1st Lt. Phillip Spaugh.
Now in his second year competing in the games, Castro sustained serious injuries in 2006 after a mortar blast killed two of his unit members and left him completely blind. He currently serves on active duty as a company commander for the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“In combat, no singular person can accomplish the mission alone, it’s a team effort. The Warrior Games is an extension of that,” said Castro. “It’s a tremendous honor to carry the torch for our team. They truly represent the sacrifice and commitment it takes to get here.”
Dempsey welcomed and congratulated the athletes, noting that the games mean something a little different to everyone.
“To the athletes, these games are not only about proving what you can do to the world, it’s about proving what you can do to yourself,” said Dempsey. “It’s about demonstrating the power of ability over disability.”
The sentiment was echoed by the First Lady during her remarks.
“No matter how seriously you’re injured, no matter what obstacles or setbacks you face, you just keep moving forward,” Obama said. “You just keep pushing yourself to succeed in ways that just mystify and leave us all in awe and that’s why I’m so excited to be here this week. All of that is going to be on display for the entire world.”
Throughout the week, Warrior Games athletes will compete in wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, archery, swimming, track and field, shooting and cycling. Each team will also compete for the Chairman’s Cup, awarded to the top overall performing team.
The Warrior Games were created in 2010 as an introduction to Paralympic sports for injured service members and veterans. Disabilities range from traumatic brain injury to amputation and severe burn injuries. Events conclude with awards and a celebration May 5.