“It just gives value and purpose”

After multiple knee surgeries, Annie Knox still remains active and competitive as she navigates her rehabilitation and recovery.

After multiple knee surgeries, Annie Knox (left) still remains active and competitive as she navigates her rehabilitation and recovery. (DoD photo by Roger L. Wollenberg)

This week will mark the 13th anniversary of the Department of Defense’s annual Warrior Games challenge in San Diego.

The games, which run from Friday to June 12, will showcase the exceptional physical skills and mental toughness of the wounded, ill and injured on active duty and veterans. Approximately 200 men and women representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and United States Special Operations Command will participate in a variety of adaptive sports. The games will be hosted by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command at Naval Air Station North Island.

For Warrior Games veterans and participants Annie Knox and Chris Ferrell, the games provide an opportunity to channel their warrior spirit despite the injuries that kept them out of combat, as well as to prove to others and themselves. that they can still accomplish everything they set out to do. their mind.

Knox has been in the military for over 12 years, working as a signals intelligence analyst. She also spent 17 years as a union rugby player. She began a transition from active duty to the veteran community after sustaining an injury while playing rugby. Knox has had a series of seven knee surgeries, with more to come, but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her passion.

“I was a 17-year-old union rugby player. I played in the field. I played from my freshman year in high school and then into adulthood, but with my injury I couldn’t get back on the court,” Knox said. “So it was really a great opportunity because I discovered wheelchair rugby, in particular that I was able to be competitive and tap into my sportsmanship and be able to apply it in a different way while still feeling like part of a team and still being asset. These are the big key factors that got me hooked.

Adaptive Sports is part of the larger Department of Defense Warrior Care program. These sports provide reconditioning activities and competitive athletic opportunities to all wounded, ill, and injured service members to enhance their physical and mental well-being throughout their recovery and transition. Modified equipment and additional classification systems allow every athlete to compete regardless of injury or illness.

“Warrior Games are really important for wounded warriors to feel part of a team. We’re raised in squads and raised in teams,” Knox said. “The whole army is a team, the whole [Department of Defense] is a team, when we go out and operate overseas and at home and in a common environment, and with my deployment experience and stuff like that. … He doesn’t operate overseas, but we operate as a team on the ground, and I think that just gives value and purpose to wounded warriors who may be feeling a bit depressed after their injuries.”

A different path to the Warriors Games

Ferrell, a retired Air Force technical sergeant, worked in explosive ordnance disposal from 2003 until his medical retirement in 2017 due to injuries sustained in combat. His military service included five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient Ferrell differed from Knox in that he did not initially want to be part of the program or games, but was forced into it by his wife and Chief Master Sergeant Jeremiah Grisham. After attending an event and learning about injuries, illnesses and eligibility for the program and games, he came to better understand what this program has to offer and appreciate those who attend.

“During this recovery period, everything was super fresh for me. In my head, if you weren’t with me during my missions and during the traumatic events that had happened, then we didn’t need to talk or anything like that,” Ferrell said. “We didn’t and it was super short. -seeing me and thinking very superficially because I just felt like you weren’t in direct combat, and not just in direct combat, but in combat with me. A lot of other guys I was with were in direct combat, but for me it wasn’t the same because I felt like my stuff was my stuff, and I was so far from to be right. So I had to learn that trauma is trauma no matter how it happened to you.

Knox will compete in wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair track racing and field events such as seated shot put, seated discus and she also hopes to swim. Ferrell will be captain of the Air Force team for the second time. He will compete in sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, weightlifting, seated shot put, wheelchair track racing and indoor rowing.

Knox and Ferrell encountered obstacles adapting to their new way of playing.

“I think mentally it’s a bit of a different game, like different technical aspects,” Knox said. “I think relearning the game was a challenge, but then seeing how my previous experience kind of plugged into both rugby and wheelchair basketball with a defensive spirit. Terrain range and terrain IQ apply in the terrain, so I thought that was really great.

Ferrell had to change his ways to excel in his new adapted sport.

“I’ve always been into bodybuilding, bodybuilding and stuff to get fit and for the military and for my job and stuff like that,” Ferrell said. “But I’ve never done this type of weightlifting because it’s a para bench, which was entirely new to me. I’ve never done a bench where my legs were straight and tied. I always did a suicide hold on my bench press, so in January I had to learn how to wrap my thumbs [around the bar] and I almost dropped 135 pounds on my chest because I didn’t know how to hold myself properly. So that’s something that I really dove into and I’m really excited about it.

Chris Ferrell has been participating in the Warrior Games since 2016. (US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Chris Ferrell has been participating in the Warrior Games since 2016. (US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Sport is a healing tool

The games have allowed injured and ill warriors to rediscover their passions, stay active, and remain competitive, but the games are also a form of rehabilitation for these veterans, both mentally and physically. The role the games play for these athletes is significant.

“[The Warrior Games’ role in my recovery] was absolutely crucial because when you separate yourself from the type of individuals that go into the program, you end up in your own bubble,” Ferrell said. “And when you do that, you start to forget about everyone’s problems that they’re going through and all their hardships. So as you go back to it, you start to realize that the problems you’ve had, the battles you’re fighting, you’re not the only one.

“Where I am in my mental recovery, I’m much, much more stable and confident than I was six years ago, seven years ago. Back then, I was extremely volatile. It’s been a few years, probably two, three years that I’ve really reached a point where I feel solid and with that I think it helps me talk to people, identify with them. not always identify with everyone because all of your stories are different. And with your different stories, you need to find common ground for healing and recovery.”

As Knox continues her healing process with her knee, she still feels that sports play a role in her mental recovery.

“I am not cured. And there’s still more to do on the recovery aspect, but the way the sport fits in is actually more active in training and other ways to keep me active. I think it really helps me physically but also mentally, knowing that I’m playing a sport and training for something specific to a sport, even if it’s not rugby or powerlifting, it’s is a different way that I always feel like I achieve the same result, physically and mentally. And having that healthy coping mechanism, and you’re just fine. I think it helped me get out of a slump of saying I can’t do things and got me to say, ‘No, I’m here to grow and have a purpose’. I have things to do.’ And really enjoy it.

The warrior community that participates in these games is tight-knit. These veterans lean on and rely on each other mentally, physically and competitively. Ferrell, who has been participating since 2016 and was co-captain of the Air Force team that year, considers himself an “OG” in the program and prides himself on being a resource for newcomers.

“We have a lot of new staff who are here and just with what I’ve been through and the things I’ve been through with recovery and all that stuff, I’m able to help redirect and refocus [on] men and women who are still trying to find their way,” Ferrell said.

The community has also been a strong foundation and support system for Knox, who is still dealing with complications from injury and his transition to the veteran community.

“The program showed me more ways to do things and to focus on coping rather than ‘can’t’. I was really hyper focused on “I can’t run, I can’t walk” and my knee giving out and so it really opened my eyes to the camaraderie of other veterans or others who have similar complications or totally unrelated complications. And just being with them has really helped me,” she said. “I think they’ve helped not only to accept where I’m at, but also to find other ways to doing fulfilling things, connecting to a community and playing sports or working out, even sharing activities.”

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