MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Some competed blindly; some competed without their arms or legs—but for the first ever Marine Corps Trials, wounded warriors from all over the world did not let their injuries deter their will to compete.
More than 150 wounded, ill and injured Marines, Marine veterans and international Marines came to Camp Pendleton Feb. 17-27 to participate in the trials, which serve as a preliminary competition to the annual Warrior Games slated for May 16-25 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Thirty wounded service members from the U.K., Australia and Netherlands competed against the Marines, who also hosted three teams, making the trials a competition in itself. The East, West, veteran and international Marines competed for gold medals amongst the individuals.
“Some have lost their limbs; others have lost their eyesight or memory,” said Victor Plata, swimming coach, board of directors, USA Triathalon. “But what these Marines share is their ability to hold competitive spirit when faced with extreme challenges. It truly brings them together.”
The participants were able to compete in wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, archery, swimming, shooting, track and field, and cycling during the 10-day event.
"Looking back over the past 235 years of our Corps' history, Marines have overcome any challenge they have faced on the battlefield," said Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, during the opening ceremony. "We are privileged this week to watch how up-close and personal that eternal spirit can play out on the athletic field."
Bringing the Marines together in a setting where they can relate to others in similar situations can be an important step in their recovery, said Plata. From multiple amputations, to other traumatic injuries of war including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, wounded, ill and injured troops all proved that life doesn’t end with an injury.
“Even though I can’t see or walk, I still know that I’m doing my best out here,” said Chuck Sketch, an injured participant and native of Wildomar, Calif. “I like knowing that there are opportunities for me and others who experience similar situations to still be able to compete in athletic competitions regardless of our disability.”
Sketch lost his sight from brain cancer in 1997 and lost both of his legs due to complications with blood clots in 1998. This year, Sketch, a swimmer, shooter and cyclist for the Veterans Team, walked away with five gold medals. During the hand-cycling portion of the trials, he used Maj. Susan Stark, event coordinator, as his eyes as they drove the only two-passenger bike in the 10 kilometer race.
“Chuck is such an inspiration to all the athletes out here because he is a dedicated and well-rounded participant who just never gives up,” said Plata. “These trials are a reminder for people, like Chuck, that they are still important, and it gives them the ability to compete with a feeling that they’re a part of something again.”
The trials give these Marines the opportunity to participate in a competitive event and are intended to select the top 50 participants to be a part of the All-Marine team, which will compete against teams from the other branches of service during the Warrior Games in May. Those selected for the Warrior Games are chosen on a point scale and the official winners are scheduled be announced March 1.
“This is a great opportunity for those who [are injured] that may have started to lose motivation to [compete in an important event],” said Sgt. Dean Sanchez, archery coach for the event from Headquarters Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment. “It’s motivating; it’s healthy; and regardless of who wins, it can become part of the healing process for them as they come together [with others who have similar disabilities].”