Warrior Games athletes support each other on and off the field. Family members and friends cheer in the stands to provide moral support. Staff members are on hand to provide logistical support and medics are available for medical support. But another support system works behind the scenes to help make sure the athletes are as successful as possible.
Kevin Flynn and members from his team at ATG Rehab in Colorado Springs, Colo., provide support for athletes’ equipment during the games.
“We were asked at the beginning to help with their equipment needs,” said Flynn, a former Marine. “Very few of the teams had their own equipment, and the Olympic Training Center had a bunch of used basketball chairs that we duct-taped and super-glued and wire-tied together to try to make work for these guys.”
Flynn’s company specializes in rehabilitation equipment, like custom wheelchairs, for patients of all ages. Although they typically don’t work on adaptive sports equipment, Flynn’s and his team’s skill sets transfer over and allow them to work with the sports equipment. They can support teams’ equipment needs from wheelchairs to bicycles.
“We’ll do whatever we have to do to keep these guys’ equipment running so they can participate in the games,” Flynn said. “Any equipment they have, we’ll figure out a way to keep it going.”
Another team that supports the athletes is Bill Beiswenger and his team of technicians at Abilities Unlimited, which is also based in Colorado Springs. The company helps athletes who wear prosthesis keep their devices in shape during the games.
Staff members are on call at the event site where they roam to help any athlete who needs prosthesis or orthoses support. There is also one assistive technology provider and a technician at each event to make sure the equipment meets specifications and to repair the equipment on site.
Beiswenger, a Navy veteran, continues to serve his community with his specialty. The team works with disabled veterans and their family members year-round through the military medical system as well as during the games.
“We do whatever we can to help any veteran,” he said. “To me, anyone, especially if their (injury) is service-connected, we need to help them have quality of life.”
Both teams have volunteered their time to support the Warrior Games athletes since the games began. In their experiences working with the wounded warriors, the leaders of both teams said the athletes take good care of their equipment, but sometimes issues do arise.
“A lot of the sports equipment is so specialized, it’s not something you’re going to be able to go to (any store) and find a part for,” Flynn said. “Typically, you just get broken spokes, flat tires, worn-out bearings or maybe a bent footrest or something like that from a collision, fairly minor stuff.”
“When (athletes) start competing, they’re probably running harder, and every once in a while they might come up with an irritation on their residual limb that we can make an adjustment to the socket to eliminate that,” Beiswenger said. “Sometimes we find they practice and they train with their prosthesis, but when they get here, they fail and they can’t compete with a broken prosthetic foot. So we would try to get them a new foot as soon as possible so they can compete. Every once in a while there might be a fine-tune alignment thing to make sure the prosthesis is aligned as perfectly as possible for the type of competition they’re doing.”
Beiswenger said a prosthesis that’s made for running, especially at high speeds, is different than one made for walking. When people walk, they walk with a heel-toe gait so their heels hit the ground and then roll forward to their toes. But when people start running, they run on their toes, so the prosthesis are usually longer and aligned for that faster gait.
Both teams try to do all the repairs they can on site, although sometimes athletes need to go into the office to get fixed up.
“If they have minor things that need to be done, we just take care of it,” Beiswenger said. “If they have major things that need to be done, we’ll either contact the prosthetist in their community or get them new parts and work with whoever we need to to make sure they can compete during the time they’re here.”
The support teams may not be compensated monetarily or awarded any medals during the games, but both team leaders agreed there is a benefit to using their skills to support injured, ill and wounded service members.
“It fills my heart with joy to see these guys — they’ve been through hell and the worst things in the world have happened to them — out there enjoying themselves in competition and the camaraderie,” Flynn said.
“It’s a great thing to be able to help someone out, and you go in there and watch them compete, and you see the big smiles on their faces because they’re feeling like they’re part of something,” Beiswenger said. “You know they’re not thinking, ‘I have a disability,’ right now. They’re thinking, ‘I’m out here with my colleagues, and this guy Bill helped me.’ It’s a good feeling.”