Two Fort Stewart soldiers brought home gold and silver medals after competing against similarly determined paralympians from the Army, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, Marines and Special Forces in the Warrior Games on May 16-21 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Spc. Zachariah Smith, 23, won silver as a member of the Army’s sitting volleyball team, and Spc. Stuart Lancaster, 28, took the gold in the discus throw."It was a great experience," Lancaster said. "Everyone there was a really good competitor. It was intense competition; it was phenomenal."
The two Fort Stewart soldiers were among 200 wounded, injured and ill active-duty service members who competed in adaptive sports, including archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball, shooting, swimming, sitting volleyball and track and field, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center near Pikes Peak, Colo.
The Warrior Games are organized by the U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), the Department of Defense and the USO.
Coaches and athletes from the U.S. Paralympics visited Fort Stewart’s wounded warriors in February and have trained Warrior Transition Battalion leaders and cadre staff, including WTB Commander Lt. Col. Bill Reitemeyer and chief occupational therapist Debra DeHart, in developing an adaptive-sports program.
Lancaster competed against 11 other throwers May 17, the second day of the games. His winning throw was 135 feet, 7 inches, he said.
"There were six teams competing in sitting volleyball," Smith said. "We lost one game and then lost the one for first place. The Marines took the gold, Army got silver and a special (forces) team got bronze."
Smith said that going into the semifinals, all bets were on the Army and Marine teams to win.
"It was all about having fun," he said, adding that the competition wasn’t fierce until the final game. "Then the Marines came out of nowhere and began ramming it down our throats."
Lancaster and Smith supported one another during the games. Smith recorded most of Lancaster’s discus event, and both watched the Army compete in wheelchair basketball.
"That is an intense sport," Smith said.
"Some of the wheelchairs fell over (during play)," Lancaster said.
The Army’s team took the gold in wheelchair basketball and swimming, Smith said.
Smith and Lancaster don’t dwell on their injuries; they say it’s better to focus on improving their athletic skills and encourage other wounded warriors to do the same.
Smith was injured in an IED blast in 2007 while deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. He suffered 12 separated disks in his spine, a broken knee, a broken shoulder, traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
Lancaster came to the WTB after being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2009. He was preparing to deploy to Iraq with the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team when he got sick.
Lancaster endured intensive chemotherapy treatments and received a stem-cell transplant.
Both Smith and Lancaster soon will return to full duty.
Smith is waiting on orders to mechanic school and in the meantime will help coach the WTB’s sitting volleyball team. He will be among 45 soldiers and WTB cadre members attending the Georgia Champions Sports Festival on June 8-9 at Warm Springs.
"I’ll be at the Warrior Games next year if I’m not deployed," Smith said.
Lancaster currently is focusing on getting promoted and expects to be assigned to an infantry battalion within the next six months. He intends to continue his track-and-field training.
"I’ll probably start throwing like I did when I was younger within six months of training," he said.
His goal is to reach a discus throw of 185 feet — 50 feet farther than his Warrior Games gold-medal throw — by the end of this year.