Archery’s versatility and healing powers were on display June 21-30 at the WarriorGames in Tampa Bay, an event featuring about 300 ill, wounded and injured service members and veterans competing in 11 sports, including archery, rowing, swimming and wheelchair basketball.
Archers could compete in up to five categories: team compound, team recurve, individual recurve open, individual compound open, and individual compound/recurve open visually impaired. All events combined male/female archers in the head-to-head competitions, and they could shoot while standing or seated.
Visually impaired archers, all of whom were blindfolded, had a “side coach” assist by telling them where their arrow hit the target after each shot. Jacob Cox, a Coast Guard maritime enforcement specialist 2nd class, represented Team Navy in the event.
Pfc. Kyia Costanzo, who injured her ankle during basic training,competed in swimming and archery. “Adaptive sports for me, has built confidence and makes me feel as if I’m still doing something to raise awareness in the community (for) wounded, injured and ill soldiers,” Costanzo said in a U.S. Army article. “It was painful to say goodbye to things like hiking. But getting involved in adaptive sports gave me a new outlet.”
Spc. Kevin Holyan competed in archery from a wheelchair, having suffered a gunshot wound.
“When he is out on the line preparing to take his shot, he said everything and everyone else disappears, and he just breathes,” reported a U.S. Army article. “Then, sitting on his wheelchair, he pulls back the arrow with his mouth and lets it fly.”
Archery is for everyone, so check out the range and discover what you can do. Holyan defined it beautifully in one word: “Archery is therapy,” he said.
Susan Goodman, a master resilience trainer-performance expert, teaches mental tactics to help archers during competition and daily life. Goodman uses the same tool suggested by fellow sports psychologist Dr. Sari Shepphird, who encourages archers to create mantras and repeat them at the line to sharpen their focus. Costanzo’s favorite phrase? “One shot. Best shot.”
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melinda Smith also competed in archery. She began her journey with the Air Force Wounded Warrior program in 2015 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while deployed in 2014. Smith enjoys the Games for the sense of community and understanding. “We’re all the same,” Smith told the WV Metro News.
Blanca Baquero-Cruz, an Air Force linguist who speaks multiple languages, including Amharic, Russian and Serbo-Croatian, competed in archery and several other events. She’s dealing with PTSD from domestic violence and sexual assault. Sometimes wars don’t end when you go home. Cruz finds solace in sports, but told the official Warrior Games publication that she never thought she’d be competing in archery and air-rifle shooting. Cruz credits archery and air rifles for instilling her calm focus. The sports help her concentrate, which provides many mental health benefits.
Clay Pendergrass, a veteran Navy Seal, was captain of Team SOCOM. He told the Warrior Games publication that he’s unsure how he was chosen for that position, but maybe it’s because he advocated for restoring veterans’ physical and mental health through the CARE Coalition. Pendergrass was injured by a suicide bomber while deployed in Iraq. He underwent 24 surgical procedures during 30 years of service, the article reported, but he blamed some injuries on the wear and tear of training. He is grateful that adaptive sports helped him reconnect with his family, and made him more active with his children.
“My message to the public would be that whatever it is you love to do – golf, archery, fishing, biking – if that’s something you’re really passionate about, find an event or organization that will let you share that with veterans,” Pendergrass said.
The Warrior Games is an incredible event that lets wounded warriors share their talents, strengths and determination with others. Whether their injury is physical or psychological, they’ll receive help from coaches and competitors during the Warrior Games.
For full results and team listings, visit the DOD Warrior Games website.