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JBLM Soldier inspired by competition at Warrior Trial Games

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:17PM June 26th, 2014

After several deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq, Isaac Rios Jr. has a list of injuries he’s suffered during his military career.

That list includes: damage to his right shoulder due to firearms and explosives; multiple injuries to both knees; both hips and his right hand. Additionally, Rios has also been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Nonetheless, Rios found himself with more than 100 athletes — from the Army, the Air Force and the Marine Corps — competing in the 2014 Warrior Trial Games June 15-20 at West Point military academy in New York.

Throughout the week, Rios was inspired by several athletes; such as one who swam with only one arm, a double amputee who consistently performed in the rifle and pistol shooting events, and those who made wheelchair basketball look as fluid as any professional or collegiate game.

“Everyone here has a drive — they’ll work harder to get it faster the next time,” Rios said. “They’re out here doing everything I’m doing, and it’s just a rewarding feeling. It gives you more motivation to come back next time.”

The event was hosted by the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command and developed through a partnership between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Military and Veteran Program to create a sports competition for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans.

Rios was first introduced to seated volleyball while beginning his recovery at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Warrior Transition Battalion. It was the gateway sport that led to him learning more about the Warrior Trial Games.

Over time, he would show interest in more sports geared towards wounded warriors. When he arrived at this year’s games, Rios signed up for seven events — seated volleyball, wheelchair basketball, standing rifle shooting and archery.

“I’m always looking for something to do,” Rios said. “If I can still do something without hurting myself, I always try to do it.”

Army coaches even recruited him for shot put and discus events in the track and field competition because of his stocky frame, which they said was perfect for the events. Rios said he had never participated in either and began practicing only two days prior to competing.

Even so, Rios earned a gold medal in shot put with his throw of 31.3 feet, but finished fourth in the discus with a throw that passed the 73-foot mark.

“I feel I did good with only two days of practice,” Rios said.

Rios also won a silver medal in the standing SH2 rifle competition, where shooters require a firearm support to shoot, and helped Army’s team, “Team Black,” win the bronze medal in seated volleyball. In addition to earning medals, Rios said he learned that so many things are possible, despite the injuries that he and other service members have sustained.

While playing wheelchair basketball, Rios said he learned it was possible to jump a wheelchair up to five inches off the ground to change directions on offense; which replaces pivoting seen in regular basketball.

Rios also stated the competition provided a chance for a brotherhood to be developed amongst all participants. Although athletes were ultimately focused on earning one of the qualifying spots for this fall’s Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., they still helped each other when someone had leg cramps or fell out of their wheelchair in the middle of a game.

“Everybody hangs out together until it’s time to compete,” Rios said. “Once the game is over, it’s right back to being friends.”

At the end of the Trial Games, Rios had not been informed if his accomplishments during the event were enough to receive an invite to the Warrior Games. A selection committee is expected to announce the Army team in a few weeks, but medals do not guarantee a spot on the team.

With or without him, Rios hopes the program gains more participants, and that even people who have felt down on themselves try out.

“There’s more than just feeling sorry for yourself,” Rios said. “With a little work, you can do something.”