WEST POINT, N.Y., June 21, 2016 — The Army team swept podiums in men’s 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter 4.0 and men’s 200-meter visually impaired categories, and several other individual athletes emerged as multiple medal winners and crowd favorites during the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy here June 16.
Army veterans Staff Sgt. Stefan LeRoy, Sgt. 1st Class Allan Armstrong and Capt. William Reynolds captured bronze, silver and gold medals, respectively, while Army veterans Staff Sgt. Sean Johnson and Cpl. Matthew Mueller took silver and gold medals in the men’s 200-meter visually impaired category.
Five-time gold medalist Army veteran Capt. Kelly Elmlinger, who emerged victorious in 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter races category 3.0, said she strives to do her best in all competitions.
“Run your race, run your lane,” she said. “I come here to do a job for Team Army, and part of doing that is being the best me that I can be.”
Camaraderie Eclipses Rivalries
She also noted that camaraderie eclipses rivalries at such competitions.
“It’s not about beating a particular person in a particular sport,” she said. “I think everyone can say they’re proud of their branch, but camaraderie, by far, outweighs the rivalry.”
Elmlinger emphasized that above all, this and similar competitions signify a celebration, as every athlete strives for the pinnacle. “For us to start the race and finish the race is a victory, and whether I get five medals or no medals, the point is coming out here -- it’s a family affair, and it needs to be celebrated.”
First-time Warrior Games participant Navy veteran Airman Chance Field of Amarillo, Texas, became a record holder, with gold medals in men’s 400-, 800- and 1,500- meter category 2.0. He credited “hard work and a lot of practice” to come in under two-minutes faster than the previous record for 400-meter.
“It’s motivating being around all these guys,” Field said. “We have a lot of fast guys out here on the track, so watching them, seeing what they do, and just bringing that energy into your own race is how I succeeded.”
Army veteran Sgt. 1st Class Sualauvi Tuimalealiifano of the U.S. Special Operations Command team, earned gold in the men’s 200- and 400-meter category 1.0 as well as earning the gold medal and setting a record in 800-meter category 1.0. “There’s a lot to do, being that my level of injury is one of the most severe,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great people out here. It’s a blessing, and it’s been amazing.”
San Antonio native and Army veteran Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper struck gold in 200-, 400-, 800-, and 1,500-meter in the 5.5 L category, in addition to snagging a bronze in 100-meter category 5.5.
Kuiper, who said she generally runs about 5 miles each day, said her coaches assisted with her pacing to achieve her maximum effort for two laps.
‘Run Your Best Race’
“You never know who your competitors are going to be and how well they’re trained, so you just have to prepare to run your best race,” Kuiper said. “I’ve met people in every branch of service, and we all have things in common: at the end of the day, we’re runners, cyclists and adaptive athletes, and you’ll never have a better experience, never meet such a wonderful group of people.”
Steve Lizzol, instructor for the Air Force Academy’s behavioral sciences and leadership department in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is here to coach about two dozen athletes who participate in track and field.
“Technique and repetition are keys to ensure that when the athletes get in there to compete, it’s old hat,” Lizzol said. “We do a lot of visualization and discuss how to overcome obstacles, and mostly just enjoy the competition.”
Track consists of races in standing and racing chair categories at distances of 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 -meters and a mixed classification of 4x100 meters relay.
Created in 2010, the DoD Warrior Games, operated in accordance with international Paralympics standards, showcase the resilience and determination of ill or injured service members, veterans, their families and their caregivers. Adaptive sports and athletic reconditioning activities play a critical role in successful recovery and reintegration, officials noted.(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)