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James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida
Special athletes compete in 2019 Warrior Games
By Ed Drohan
Friday, June 28, 2019For the last few days, more than 300 special athletes have been competing in the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games, which are being held this year in the Tampa Bay area.
The games started June 21 and continue until June 30. Teams from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Operations Command are being joined by teams from Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands and Denmark.
The Warrior Games is part of the Department of Defense’s Military Adaptive Sports Program, which attempts to enhance recovery by getting wounded, ill and injured service members in adaptive sports according to their interests and abilities. Each event has varying levels of competition based on the individual’s functional abilities, and the athletes competing on the games include both Veterans and active duty military members.
Several of the competitors either are or have been patients at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, including former Army Special Forces Team Sergeant George Vera. Vera shot by insurgents four times in Afghanistan in 2015, leaving him paralyzed.
After spending 13 months as an inpatient, Vera now is seen as an outpatient several times a week for therapy and other treatments. This is his second Warrior Games, although he only started training a few months before his first. He is competing this year in hand cycling, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, swimming and field, and as of June 26 he already had silver medals in shot put, discus and hand cycling time trials, and a gold medal in hand cycling road racing.
While he said he enjoys the competition of the games, it’s the people he meets that make the games special.
“Besides the competition part, you get to be with your friends and other wounded or injured service members,” Vera said. “You make good friends and strong bonds with these guys.”
Rhonda Keist, an Army lieutenant colonel currently stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, agreed with Vera.
“I definitely love the camaraderie,” Keist, who was part of the JAHVH Post-Deployment Rehabilitation Program in 2015 while station at MacDill Air Force Base. “I have needed it for a long time.”
Keist has been training for the games since March and is competing in the archery, shooting, cycling and swimming competitions. As of June 26, she had one gold medal for cycling time trials but the other competitions either hadn’t happened or weren’t final at the time.
She said she would definitely be back.
“I’ve never done any of this stuff before so I’m definitely challenging myself to go way above and beyond my comfort levels,” Keist said. “It’s awesome.”