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NEWS | Oct. 21, 2021

Army Athletes Share Their Virtual Challenge Experiences

ARLINGTON, Va. — Athletes from American military services and ally nation Ukraine competed in the Military Adaptive Sports Virtual Challenge from Sept. 13-17. The wounded, ill and injured Soldiers competed in 11 adaptive sporting events, some of which were livestreamed on social media. It was a truly unique experience that participating Soldiers aren’t likely to forget.

A total of 23 Army athletes competed in events such as powerlifting, archery, track and wheelchair basketball. They earned first place in 41 events, second place in 12 events and third place in 10 events.

The Virtual Challenge wasn’t an official Warrior Games sanctioned event or program. However, the Army athletes who competed were all selected as primary or alternate athletes in the 2021 Department of Defense Warrior Games, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Sharpe — who is assigned to the Fort Bliss Soldier Recovery Unit, Texas — competed in and claimed second place in the 107KG+ powerlifting event.

“The opportunity to train and compete in the Virtual Games for the Army has been instrumental in my recovery both physical and mental,” Sharpe said prior to the Virtual Challenge starting.

Sharpe recovered from two surgeries that removed his colon and placed a permanent ileostomy. He said that members of the adaptive recovery program staff and Coach Adriane Wilson helped him progress to competition training. He also credited them with helping him adjust to challenges, gain confidence, set high goals, find a purpose and self-motivate to go beyond his own expectations.

“The support I received from them was and continues to be invaluable,” he said.

Retired Staff Sgt. Beth King competed in the 2019 Warrior Games and virtual competitions held by the Air Force when the Invictus Games were canceled. During the Virtual Challenge, King fought for victory in cycling, indoor rowing, powerlifting, wheelchair basketball, track and field events. She earned first place in the 79KG powerlifting event.

Sports helped her search out a way to adapt and reclaim a sense of limitlessness after she was injured. She realized that her journey may not look like everyone else’s, but there’s nothing that she can’t do.

“Things that I once thought were a great loss, weren’t a loss,” King said. “They just needed a new approach.”

Retired Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez competed in five National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the Invictus Games and the Warrior Games. He’s also slated to compete in the 2022 Invictus Games, which will take place in The Hague, Netherlands. And he’s one of the Army athletes who took on the Virtual Challenge.

Rodriguez competed in swimming and field events and said he has a love/hate relationship with both sports. However, if he had to choose a favorite, it would be swimming. When he’s in the pool or on the field, it’s hard and taxing, but he gets a sense of accomplishment.

He said that he was a fish before his injury. He did pool physical therapy during his recovery and started swimming as soon as he entered the water. That brought his mother and wife to tears. Every time he gets in the pool, he remembers that moment.

Rodriguez said that training is a major part of competition and that it takes much more discipline than dedication.

“We were training to be a dominating force,” he said during the event week.

He noted that the mindset didn’t change going into the Virtual Challenge.

Retired Spc. Brent Garlic competed in the 2018 and 2019 Warrior Games. This year, he represented the Army in the Virtual Challenge.

“I just love the fact that we are able to do it,” he said during the event week.

For Garlic, that was the best part, but it certainly was different. He noted that the athletes weren’t able to see each other. It was emotionally challenging because they look forward to training and it was difficult not being together, he explained.

Garlic competed in the wheelchair basketball, cycling, powerlifting and swimming and took home first place in the Wheelchair Max event.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.