Since its inception in 2010, the Department of Defense Warrior Games have provided wounded athletes the chance to compete in an annual Paralympic-style event featuring veterans from all branches of the military.
This year, those athletes enjoyed a bigger platform to showcase their skills because for the first time, the games were held at a non-military site, with Chicago being the host city.
The games, held from June 30-July 8 and hosted by the U.S. Navy, featured 265 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) along with athletes from the United Kingdom Armed Forces and the Australian Defense Force.
Events took place throughout Chicago as Soldier Field, the United Center, the Museum Campus, McCormick Place, Lane Tech College Prep and the University of Illinois at Chicago all hosted competitions. Among the events held at these sites were shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
“We wanted to bring the games to Chicago because of the passion the city has for sports,” said Warrior Games Director Brent Breining. “What has been missing in previous years is stands full of spectators. We wanted to get our message out to the public and we decided Chicago was a place we could do that. These athletes’ inspiring stories need to be shared with the public.”
The opening ceremony, held July 1 at Soldier Field, drew a crowd of approximately 10,000 and carried a festive air as former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart was the emcee while singers Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson performed in concert. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Sam Moore also made an appearance, performing the song “Soul Man.”
“I can’t think of a better city that celebrates resolve than one that can finish an entire deep-dish pizza,” Stewart quipped at the ceremony. “I get great inspiration from these athletes, not because they are superhuman, but because they are human. They made a choice not just to survive, but to thrive.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a video message during the event that said, “On behalf of all Chicagoans, I’m proud to welcome you to the 2017 Warrior Games in the most American of American cities. We are thrilled to host our brave heroes and their families here for the Department of Defense Warrior Games … there’s no place better to kick off the games than right here in Chicago, a city that loves sports at Soldier Field, named in honor of our veterans, our military and their families.”
The games received an added boost of publicity July 7 when Stewart co-hosted ESPN’s signature highlight show “SportsCenter” live from the United Center.
“These are athletes that refuse to define themselves by the worst thing that ever happened to them, but define themselves by how they reacted to it,” Stewart said on air. “And that’s what’s so impressive about them.”
To qualify for the Games, athletes must be enrolled in one of the Department of Defense’s wounded warrior programs, which provide non-medical care to those who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Athletes participate in camps, clinics and trials in order to compete.
Every military veteran who competes in the games has overcome some form of devastating injury, illness or both.
“The Warrior Games have a two-fold impact,” said Alex Eudy, a Special Operations weather specialist and member of Team SOCOM. “One, it really helps the athletes and their family members, and two, it helps the community get insight into the military. Chicago has a large military presence, and the Games put our military and athletes onto the national stage.
“It is a unique opportunity that allows people of all different injury levels to meet and compete. The Games give us a chance to compete with our brothers and sisters in arms.”
– Jason Paha