Norfolk, Virginia - More than 60 seriously wounded, ill and injured Navy and Coast Guard athletes, as well as their families and friends, gathered for the closing ceremony for the Wounded Warrior Team Navy Trials in Norfolk, Virginia, June 7.
"I don't have family here, but all of you are like my family," said Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Marijka Temple while addressing the crowd at the celebration. "I don't want this to end. This has meant so much to me, and I just love all of you."
Temple, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was among more than 30 trials participants who have not yet attended the Warrior Games, an annual competition among wounded warriors from all branches of the service. Throughout the week, athletes trained rigorously and participated in several fierce competitions to win a spot on Team Navy and advance to the Warrior Games.
"It was so great to see so many new faces at this event, and to watch them test their abilities," said retired Coast Guard Electrician's Mate 1st Class Paul Johnson, who was injured in a shipboard accident. "So often, medical professionals tell you what you can't do. But this event is all about your abilities, and what you can do."
"Before [these adaptive athletics events], my injury defined me. Now, I am defined by my willingness to move forward," he added.
The Wounded Warrior Team Navy Trials were jointly sponsored by Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (CNRMA) and Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) - Safe Harbor. During the closing ceremony, Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, CNRMA, was joined by Adm. Bill Gortney, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC). USFFC played an integral part in the execution of the event and arranging local support for the wounded warrior athletes.
Gortney, Smith, NWW Director Capt. Brent Breining, and other organizers and volunteers handed out gold, silver, bronze and participation medals to the wounded warrior athletes. A complete medal count, as well as the Team Navy roster, will be posted on the NWW website (http://safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil).
"I left home in pieces, but I am starting to put them back together again, and I hope to come home more whole," said Navy Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Michael Dacanay, who has been diagnosed with a serious illness. "I am learning so much from the people here. Another athlete has been through [similar medical treatments], and he is sharing tips with me. It's about much more than sports."
The closing ceremony also provided an opportunity to honor the local sponsors who supported the Wounded Warrior Team Navy Trials. Each athlete had at least one sponsor who cheered for them during competition and, in some cases, took them out for meals and other recreational opportunities.
"I have a lot of respect for these Sailors, who could have chosen to just stay home," said Navy Senior Chief Personnel Specialist Paul Buchanan, who was sponsoring Temple. "Instead, they're out here doing stuff. The camaraderie is great to see, and I'm having a great time. I do wish that others could see it, too."
At the closing ceremonies, event organizers also thanked the 160 local volunteers who helped ensure the smooth execution of the event. Amanda Loeffler, whose husband is a Navy expeditionary ordnance disposal technician currently on deployment, was among the dedicated volunteers, and she often worked until late in the evening.
"I firmly believe that if someone has given limbs, or given some other part of themselves, for my freedom, I should give back to them," she said.
Throughout the week, the Wounded Warrior Team Navy Trials, which featured 65 wounded warrior athletes, drew more than 700 local spectators, making it the largest adaptive athletics event ever hosted by NWW.
NWW coordinates the non-medical care of more than 2,500 seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen and provides resources and support for their families. NWW is sponsoring Team Navy at the 2014 Warrior Games.