By Elizabeth M. Collins
Army News Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.: The Warrior Games cycling competition, held at the U.S. Air Force Academy here in a May snow shower yesterday, would have daunted the toughest of professional cyclists, but not wounded, ill and injured servicemembers.
They battled their way through freezing temperatures and slippery roads, persevering in the midst of extreme pain, and even stopped to help each other along the way.
Suffering from two torn rotator cuffs, Army Sgt. Monica Southall had never used a handcycle before arriving at the Warrior Games a few days ago, but she didn't let that keep her from the race. At one point, the pain became too much to bear and she wanted to stop, but as she said, "Soldiers don't quit, and I wasn't going to quit."
Help, in the form of Army Warrant Officer 1 Johnathan Holsey and Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Will Wilson, arrived just when Southall needed it most. Both men are leg amputees, and Wilson was talking Holsey through their upright cycling race when they passed Southall about two miles from the finish line and noticed her struggling. Any thoughts of winning in their own competition instantly disappeared.
"When we came by her, she was having a hard time going around, and the Navy master chief [and I], we were coming through," Holsey said after the race. "He kind of helped me on. He was saying, 'Stay with me. Stay with me.' And when we saw Monica, we were like, 'You know what? We're going to take her in.'"
Holsey added, "We said we weren't going to leave her and we stayed with her the whole time, because we're all here together. You never leave your comrade behind. Never. When we saw her coming up by herself, we said we were going to stay with her and we pushed her along. She had the wheel.
"We just had to be there with her, he continued. "We just came through together. It's never about the race; it's about the camaraderie and being there for each other."
Although the three were competing in individual events and are in different services, they were really one team, Holsey said, bound not only by their military service, but also by their experiences as wounded and injured servicemembers. They share something no one else could understand.
Southall inspired and helped Holsey as well. Seeing her perseverance pushed all thoughts of pain, cold and falling off his bike to the side, he said. That's the best thing about the Warrior Games, he added: the inspiration, strength and power wounded warriors can get from being around each other.
"This is the reason we came here, and this is the reason I'll do it every year," he said. "Any time they invite me back, I'll be more than happy to come."
In the end, Holsey and Wilson tied for last place in their category, and Southall finished last in hers, but that didn't matter. They crossed the finish line together, as a team, to a crowd that cheered just as loudly for them as for the gold-medal winners.
"It was great [to finish], seeing everybody standing there waiting for me and cheering me on," Southall said with tears rolling down her face. "You just can't describe a moment like that. It was very inspiring." (Issued on:May 14, 2010)
|Related Sites: Special Report: Warrior Games Warrior Games on Facebook|