COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (NNS) -- More than one-third of Team Navy - 15 Sailors - are preparing to go head-to-head for the first time with more than 200 seriously wounded, ill and injured service members at the fourth annual Warrior Games May 11 - 16.
"I didn't know about the Warrior Games until Nov. when my recreational therapist signed me up to participate in the Team Navy Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials in Hawaii," said Navy Yeoman 1st Class Javier Rodriguez Santiago, who is stationed at the Transient Personnel Unit Administration Office at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. "It was amazing to try out for the team, doing some sports I was familiar with and others I wasn't."
The Warrior Games are presented by Deloitte and hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo. The participating teams include Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Special Operations and the U.K. Armed Forces.
Rodriguez Santiago, from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident while riding his motorcycle in January 2011, and he sustained severe trauma to his lower extremities. After his accident, he said, he never expected to be active again because, for 16 months, he was only capable of focusing on physical therapy - not work or sports.
"In April 2012, the Navy contracted a recreational therapist for Hawaii and during my first session in the pool, I saw myself doing more than therapy," said Rodriguez Santiago. "I evolved slowly and eventually started to work again."
Rodriguez Santiago will compete next week in cycling, seated volleyball, and track and field. Like his fellow Warrior Games rookies, he has relied on the services of Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) - Safe Harbor to become strong mentally and physically through adaptive sports.
"I do not expect to come in first place," said retired Navy Aviation Technician 3rd Class Kathleen Ray. "I am just so glad to be doing something positive."
Ray - who hails from Palmdale, Calif. and also is new to Team Navy - will compete in swimming and cycling events during the Warrior Games. She rides the only recumbent bike for Team Navy.
In 2010, Ray was involved in a traffic accident, which caused a traumatic brain injury.
"I have good days and bad days," said Ray. "I am just happy to participate in the sport events and meet other people."
Ray speeds through the water just as she does on her bike. During the training sessions, she has no problem adjusting to the demands of her coach, Rick Babington, who is an expert in adaptive cycling.
"I appreciate his encouragement," said Ray. "I know I can do anything with his support."
The Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials were a great experience, said Rodriguez Santiago, because he had an opportunity to meet other wounded warriors, share stories and root for them from the sidelines. The event demonstrated to local Navy commands the opportunities and resources available for wounded warriors like him.
Marlon Bevans, a retired Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class from Norfolk, Va., identifies closely with fellow rookie Rodriguez Santiago. He also was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with severe injuries and resulted in extensive physical therapy.
"I enjoy participating in the Warrior Games," said Bevans. "I get scared sometimes because I think about the accident; I perform better when a coach is talking to me because I focus instead on what they are saying."
Bevans is representing Team Navy in shooting and swimming events and said he is ready to compete alongside his teammates.
"With all the training we are doing, I am tired, but I know it will be worth it in the end," said Bevans.
The camaraderie Rodriguez Santiago mentioned is very apparent during this week's training camp. The wounded warriors mentor and encourage one another to strive to be better today than they were yesterday.
"For me representing Team Navy in the Warrior Games is important because it will help me fill that void of not being able to do what I used to do, or feel like I used to feel," he said. "It places me in an environment where I have that camaraderie and sense of competition. I feel like I am serving a purpose, which is good for my recovery."
NWW coordinates the non-medical care of more than 1,000 seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen and provides resources and support for their families. The program is a department of Fleet and Family Support within Commander, Navy Installations Command. NWW is sponsoring Team Navy at the 2013 Warrior Games.
To learn more about NWW, the Warrior Games and adaptive athletics, visit http://safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil; call 855-NAVY WWP (628-9997) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more news from Commander, Navy Installations Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/cni/