WEST POINT, N.Y. (NNS) -- As racing competitors walk to their starting positions, those watching from the sideline -- including coaches, fellow teammates as well as family and friends in the crowd -- can see the focus in each athlete's eyes.
The crowd roars as they cheer on each branch of service. Then suddenly, a starter pistol's shot rings into the air prompting each athlete to burst away from the starting line and pour their energy towards the finish line.
The event is track and field, part of a weeklong annual competition known as the 2016 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games held this year at the U.S. Military Academy located in West Point, New York.
Although these athletes, representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the United Kingdom Armed Forces are competing to win medals, there are several goals each athlete has in common -- such as overcoming adversity, showing their resilience as a wounded veteran, and building camaraderie across the services.
The Paralympic-type event highlights these same goals by providing a venue for military service members who are wounded, ill or injured the opportunity to compete professionally in eight different sports.
Team Army member Ana Manciaz, a U.S. Army veteran who honorably served for five years as a cryptologic linguist, sees the Warrior Games as an opportunity to be surrounded by other veterans who have to overcome the same obstacles she has, and to also get a firsthand look at how each athlete accomplished that.
"I do triathlons and usually I am really nervous before a triathlon; I get sick to my stomach and mentally I'm all over the place," said Manciaz. "However, when I come to the Warrior Games I am surrounded by people like myself, we all have the same mentality, and we are all one team. So when I am at an event like this I don't get nervous; all of a sudden all of that goes away because I know everyone is behind me the same way I am behind everybody else."
Each athlete has the opportunity to participate in many, if not all eight events during the Warrior Games. Ryan Shannon, an athlete with the Navy Wounded Warrior - Safe Harbor team, has participated in both the sitting volleyball and the track and field tournaments, and plans to compete in the swimming tournament. Diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury during a tour aboard Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Pasadena (SSN 752), nerve damage and incomplete paralysis following a traumatic foot injury and complex regional pain syndrome, Shannon looked to his family for support as he fought the odds of possibly never participating in an athletic sport again.
"This is the first time in ten years that I have run a race like this," said Shannon. "When I got hurt I was told I wouldn't run again and I think for three weeks I believed them. I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old son, and I looked at my boys and I said 'no one is going to make a decision like that for me.'"
After teaching himself to run again by spending nearly three hours a day in the gym, Shannon was able to not only participate in multiple Warrior Games events but win the standing 800-meter distance race. Shannon stated that it's not just the physical preparation that helped him be successful but also his mental preparation.
"My biggest motto -- and I live by this and like to tell people this -- is 'I'm damaged; I'm not broken,'" said Shannon. "Really it's all in your mind. When I am out here, if I believe I can do it I feel like my body can do it."
Another first-time participant and member of the Navy Team, retired Fire Controlman 3rd Class Jason Reyes, was also successful during the track and field portion of the 2016 DoD Warrior Games. Reyes suffers from injuries sustained during a motorcycle accident while stationed aboard guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) four years ago. Reyes not only participated in the track and field events where he broke the male wheelchair 200-meter distance race record, but he will also participate in cycling and wheelchair basketball.
Reyes has also been successful competing outside of the Warrior Games by playing with the San Diego Wolfpack wheelchair basketball team and competing in Wheelchair Motocross where he was ranked fourth in the world championships.
"I'm number eight in the world to ever backflip in a wheelchair," said Reyes. "I try to be very broad as to what I do; I'm very action-sport affiliated and the more aggressive the sport, the more fun I have. I'm an adrenaline junkie."
Reyes also offers his personal advice to those injured veterans looking to participate in events like the Warrior Games. He gives advice to any wounded veteran no matter what stage of recovery they are in or what rank they were in the military.
"Never stop; give it your all or give it none," said Reyes. "By giving it your all, it will bring everything together whether you are a professional or whether you are a beginner. You want to be one of the best, and to be one the best you have to give it your all and put in your time no matter what."
For more information, visit http://www.navy.mil/, http://www.facebook.com/usnavy/, or http://www.twitter.com/usnavy/.
For more information on the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games please visit http://warriorgames.dodlive.mil/.