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Fort Bragg's wounded warriors compete in Warrior Games trials

Fayetteville Observer - 9/19/2017

Sept. 19--Capt. Jonathan Laton twisted his body a few times to get the feeling right.

He had never thrown a shot put before, but no matter, it looked fun. From his seated position, Laton straightened his back and tucked the shot into his neck from his right hand.

He extended his left arm, twisted his body to help build momentum for the throw and punched out as he released the shot.

The shot hit the ground with a thud, in the mix of the others that competitors had thrown earlier. Not bad, his competitors noted.

"I wasn't even going to compete," Laton said. "I saw guys throwing things, it looked fun and I wanted to see how I'd measure up."

This week, 11 of Fort Bragg's wounded warriors and veterans are competing in the local Warrior Games trials in hopes of moving on to the regional-level competition. The winners at the regional level will advance to the Department of Defense Warrior Games competition in June in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Events include archery, cycling, sitting volleyball, shooting, swimming, wheelchair basketball and track and field.

The Warrior Games was established in 2010 as a way to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded warriors, according to the Department of Defense.

The event provides opportunities for service members to grow physically, mentally and spiritually, according to the DOD.

Service members and veterans eligible to compete include those with upper-body, lower-body and spinal cord injuries; traumatic brain injuries; visual impairment; serious illnesses; and post-traumatic stress.

For the past year, Laton has been part of Fort Bragg'sWarrior Transition Battalion, where wounded soldiers receive medical care and administrative processing to either return to units or transition out of the Army. He broke his foot on a deployment to Egypt, and while being treated, learned he had serious injuries to his neck and back.

When he was moved to the Warrior Transition Battalion, Laton said, he knew there were requirements for adaptive sports, but chose to simply walk. Eventually, he was coaxed into trying other sports, including swimming.

Because of his neck injuries, he can't tilt his head while stroking through the water, so he had to purchase an adaptive mask.

"I never thought I could do it," he said.

He struggled through his first swim -- 25 meters. But over time and constant practice, Laton was proud to say he completed a 5,000 meter swim. Now he's set his next goal to reach 10,000 meters.

"I'd swim every day if I could," he said.

That's the attitude Robyn Womac-Fortin, Fort Bragg's adaptive sports site coordinator, hopes to hear from all of the service members.

"I like to be able to give them a lifelong sport," she said. "When soldiers come to the Warrior Transition Battalion, they've been told for so long what they can't do. We're here to show them, 'Yes, you can'."

Last year, more than 250 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force competed.

Lt. Col. Phillip B. Brown Jr., commander of the Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion, walked around to observe the competitors during the shot put and discus events Monday morning.

"The effort and spirit of competition, that's the beauty of it," he said, watching a soldier throw a shot up from the seat. "And, there's the sense of camaraderie."

Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at adolasinski@fayobserver.com or 486-3528.

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(c)2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

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