COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The U.S. Paralympics and Department of Defense held its opening ceremony today for the 2011 Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
More than 200 wounded, ill or injured service members from the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Special Operations Command are scheduled to compete in the Paralympic-style competition May 16-21.
A horse-mounted color guard led the way for service members who have illnesses or injuries ranging from cancer to combat wounds.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, Medal of Honor recipient, was selected as the torchbearer for the Games. Giunta is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
Veteran Marine Cpl. Travis Greene from Boise, Idaho, was selected as the torchbearer for the All-Marine Warrior Games team. Greene, a graduate of Twin Falls High School in Twin Falls, Idaho, was on his third tour to Iraq when an improvised explosive device explosion cost him his legs in Al Ramadi, Iraq, in December 2005. He earned two gold medals during the 2010 Warrior Games as a member of both the wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball teams. He also won a silver medal in shot put and a bronze in hand cycling. Greene will participate in wheelchair basketball, volleyball, sitting discus and sitting shot put this year.
Greene was assisted down the pathway by Marine veteran Cpl. Angel Gomez from Farmersville, Calif., Gomez, who sustained traumatic injuries from an improvised explosive device while serving in Iraq, will participate in the shooting prone and standing competition and cycling at the Games.
“The whole time I was going down the aisle with the torch in my hand, I kept saying to myself, ‘don’t drop the torch,’” Greene said. “I’m very honored that my teammates picked me to carry the torch. It means a lot. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing and I’m very blessed to be here.”
Ken Fisher, the chairman of the Fisher House Foundation and guest speaker, applauded the athletes’ determination to overcome the hurdles that could have challenged them.
“Perseverance is defined as a continued effort to do or keep something, despite difficult failure or opposition,” Fisher said. “Each of you looked into the future and saw yourself serving your country, and you saw that vision come true. Then once injured, you looked to the future again and saw yourself recovering and competing in sports. Here you are seeing that vision come true.”
Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, ended the ceremony by encouraging athletes to step up to achieve their goals.
“I have watched as you begin a life devoted to not just meeting expectations, but also to help inspire others to achieve new objectives and to pursue excellence,” Winnefeld said. “If its one thing I’ve learned, our wounded warriors may be at different points of their journey to reclaim their lives, but they all share that same fortitude, sacrifice and patriotism. This nation owes them the best we have to offer to aid them on that journey.”