More than 300 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from all four U.S. military branches, U.S. Special Operations Command and five partner nations are in the Tampa area until June 30 competing in adaptive sports as a part of the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games, hosted by U.S. Special Operations Command.
This is the second time the Warrior Games are being held in public venues and not on a military installation. The games are free to watch, open to the public and offer a rare opportunity to watch and be inspired by wounded warriors who have shown incredible resilience as they overcome significant physical and psychological challenges to compete in adaptive sports all around Tampa.
Crowd support is a huge benefit for the athletes.
“Warrior Games provide opportunities for athletes to heal and to regain confidence,” said Scott Danberg, this year’s sports director. “When the service members walk into the ceremony and hear the crowd cheer, the value and support really sink in.”
The opening ceremony was held June 22 at Amalie Arena. The arena was packed and the ceremony kicked off with a procession of teams as they entered to high-energy music and were welcomed with standing ovations from the crowd. Comedian Jon Stewart was the emcee of the opening ceremonies. It was his fourth year participating in the Warrior Games and when asked why he makes the time to participate, he was quick to answer. “I keep coming back to the games for these athletes,” he said. “They don’t give up, so I’m not going to give up on them.”
The torch was carried by multiple athletes and passed around the arena before finally being used by USSOCOM Commander Army Gen. Richard Clarke, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and WWE wrestler Titus O’Neill to light the cauldron. Clarke and Castor spoke to the crowd along with Mr. Ken Fisher, chairman and CEO of the Fisher House Foundation and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. All spoke about the unbreakable spirit of the athletes and their families and how they are proof life continues after becoming wounded, ill or injured, which inspires many. The show ended with a concert from country music star Hunter Hayes.
The athletes are fiercely competitive and train throughout the year to prepare, but the games are about so much more than just the medals earned. Through adaptive sports and reconditioning activities, service members get help with healing in a multitude of ways throughout their recovery and reintegration process: mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
“Being part of the Warrior Games is both rewarding and inspiring,” said U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Dalton Mask, Army golf team member. “It’s motivating to still feel part of something bigger.”
Teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy, U.S. Special Operations Command, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark are competing in archery, cycling, golf, indoor rowing, powerlifting, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis and track and field.
The Paralympic-style sports competition will be held throughout the Tampa area, including at Amalie Arena, the Tampa Convention Center, Clearwater’s Long Aquatic Center and the University of South Florida.
The Warrior Games are scheduled to conclude June 30 with the closing ceremony back at Amalie Arena. For more information, stories, imagery, medal count and more, visit www.af.mil/warriorgames2019.