An improvised explosive device struck Col. Daniel Dudek’s vehicle in 2007, leaving him with a spinal cord injury and limited the mobility in his legs. He’s used his arms for most of his movement since.
Ten years later, he’s still an active-duty member of the Army — working as an artillery officer in the G3 training shop for Headquarters Support Company, I Corps, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He also was active in the 2017 Department of Defense’s Warrior Games June 30 to Saturday in Chicago. The games are for combat wounded or injured service members.
Dudek won three gold medals and two silvers in swimming events, which included setting a new record for the 50-meter backstroke with a time of 48.02 seconds. His performance also qualified him for the 2017 Invictus Games in September in Toronto — a chance to compete against combat wounded or injured service members from other countries.
“When you go to war and you wear your country’s flag on your shoulder, it makes wearing your nation’s colors mean that much more,” Dudek said. “Doing it as an athlete, it has the same meaning — that desire to make your country proud.”
Dudek also took the bronze medal in the men’s handcycling H5 classification with a time of 24 minutes and 4 seconds in the two-lap race. Additionally, he competed in wheelchair races in the track and field portion.
The best part of the event for Dudek was seeing several family members attending the event. His father used to run track and field at Lane Technical College Preparatory High School where the Warrior Games hosted track and field and cycling events.
As Dudek was setting personal records in all of his events, he saw his family cheering him on, including his 93-year-old great aunt.
“It meant so much to me to have my extended family there at Lane Tech,” Dudek said.
Specialist Maria Garcia, currently with the JBLM Warrior Transition Battalion, took home three medals, including gold in the women’s 50-meter backstroke (5.5 lower division) with a time of 55.4 seconds. She also took silver in the women’s 50-meter freestyle (5.5 lower division).
Months ago, Garcia struggled with pain related to the injuries suffered to her back, knee, shoulder and pelvis from a 2015 road march incident. Although she was in some pain Monday after returning from Chicago, Garcia said she felt amazing at the Warrior Games — not only when she discovered she had placed in her swimming events, but also while competing.
“Obviously I’m not the best, but I’ve definitely grown and I was able to tell as I was swimming,” Garcia said. “It gave me a confidence boost in the middle of the race.”
Garcia also took silver in the women’s recumbent cycle open division of 27:39, 30 seconds behind gold medalist Sgt. Karla Caldera, of the Army. Garcia also finished fifth overall in the 10-meter air rifle prone event (SH1 division).
“I can’t imagine how much more potential I can have and grow, if I were to keep training and learning and taking in what the coaches put out,” Garcia said.
Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Heather Moran, formerly of the JBLM WTB until April and now with the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, took silver in the women’s discus throw (standing 5.5 lower division) with a throw of 22.18 meters, 0.41 away from first place.
Moran also finished behind Klotz in the women’s shot put (standing 5.5 lower division) with a 7.56-meter throw.
“It only motivates me more to get my butt back in the gym and get the right muscles strong,” Moran said.
She was close to taking the bronze medal in the women’s recumbent cycle open division, but her time of 30:02 moved her to fourth place.
Moran found out at the last minute she was competing in air rifle shooting events at McCormick Place. With no practice or weapon of her own, she still qualified for the finals in 10-meter air rifle, prone and standing, in the SH2 division.
In those three events, Moran said she is motivated to train for a better performance for next year’s Warrior Games.
“I’ve been in the military for 28 years; I don’t give up until I get what I want,” Moran said. “I’m not a stranger to discipline and doing the best that I can do.”
Veteran David Iuli, a retired Army sergeant first class formerly stationed at JBLM, also competed this year. In his second appearance at the Warrior Games, he was part of the gold-medal winning wheelchair basketball team for Army — going 6-0-1 in the tournament.
Iuli also took silver in the men’s seated shot put (6.0 division) with a throw of 10.17 meters. Additionally, he took bronze in the men’s open handcycling with a time of 27:37.
Aside from the experience to play where some of the best in the National Basketball Association play at Chicago’s United Center, Iuli said the competition was complimented by a camaraderie among service members and veterans dealing with physical and mental injuries.
“People had their game faces on ready to compete, Iuli said. “But there’s an umbrella there. We knew we were on the same team.”