By Capt. Adrienne Bryant
CHICAGO—Approximately 265 athletes and over 500 families rallied in Chicago from June 30 through July 8 to participate in the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games. Rachel Salemink from Churubusco was one of them.
The DoD Warrior Games is an annual Paralympics-style event designed to showcase the resilient spirit of our wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from all branches of the military. Service members and veterans from the United Kingdom Armed Forces and the Australian Defense Force also participated in this year’s Games.
These athletes are active-duty or veterans that suffer from upper-body, lower-body and spinal cord injuries; traumatic brain injuries; visual impairment; serious illnesses; and post-traumatic stress but have learned to use adaptive sports and other adaptive reconditioning activities to assist in their overall rehabilitation to overcome the challenge associated with their new condition.
The athletes participated in eight sports (archery, cycling, field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and wheelchair basketball) which have been adapted in various ways to accommodate a variety of conditions and abilities.
Service members and veterans qualify for the 2017 Games by enrolling in their respective service’s wounded warrior program and then participating in structured camps, clinics, trials and daily adaptive sports activities that are executed nationwide with support from the DoD Office of Warrior Care Policy Military Adaptive Sports Program.
In March 2016, Staff Sgt. Rachel Salemink, a Human Resource Specialist in the US Army Reserve and native of Churubusco, Indiana, discovered the Warrior Games. Salemink, 1-330th, 95th Training Division, was assigned to a Warrior Transition Battalion in Fort Bliss, Texas during March 2016 and awaiting a hip surgery for injuries she sustained while mobilized to the Conus Replacement Center, when she heard the Army Trials were coming to her installation. There were over 100 athletes trying out for chances to be on the Army Team for the DoD Warrior Games. It was in that moment that Salemink knew where she would be the following year—participating in the 2017 Warrior Games.
“I went on Facebook and liked Warrior Care and Transition, DoD Warrior Games and started to friend some of the athletes I met, “said Salemink recalling the excitement and inspiration she felt back in 2016.
Following her surgery and physical therapy, Salemink began participating heavily in Adaptive Sports and Wounded Warrior Camps. It was at these camps that Salemink started getting lots of attention from coaches, and they encouraged her to tryout during the regional trials held in Fort Hood, Texas, in October 2016 and later at the Army Trials in Fort Bliss, Texas, in March.
On April 11, Salemink received a call that she was selected as one of 40 individuals to represent Team Army during the 2017 Warrior Games.
“I want to show people that not all wounds are visible, that not everyone was injured or wounded in combat, that there are silent wounds,” said Salemink describing what it meant to be selected for the Games.
On July 2, Salemink competed in the track events and medaled. She won silver medals for the 100 meter, 200 meter, 800 meter, and 1,500 meter wheelchair races. Salemink also won a bronze medal for the 400 meter race.
“It’s been nothing short of amazing and it’s an experience like I’ve never ever had and felt before,” said Salemink. “And the fact is that we’re all here together showing the world that no matter what you look like we can accomplish anything and everything we want to.”
Salemink’s had plenty of family present to cheer her on throughout the Warrior Games.
“It’s been great for the families,“ said husband Chris Salemink. “They made sure that each athlete had up to two sponsors with them. So, her mom and I have been here for the whole time and we’ve been able to cheer her and her teammates on which has been amazing to be able to do that and to see her be so powerful and do what she does.”
Salemink’s three children were also present for a portion of the Warrior Games and able to cheer her on during three track events prior to returning home to Indiana.
On July 6, Salemink competed in an upright cycling event. Unfortunately during the race, Salemink fell off her cycle and was unable to complete her race. She was also scheduled to compete in multiple swimming events on July 8, however could not compete due to an injury to her hand sustained during the cycle event.
“After I got injured with the cycling, they [Warrior Games] let them know that I got hurt,” said Salemink when asked if her kids got to hear the results of the races. “But they’re still very proud of me and cheering me on and cheering team army on.”
Salemink did not let her fall crush her spirit or stop her from cheering on the rest of Team Army for the remainder of the events. She stayed in high spirits throughout the duration of the games.
“Yeah I’m rooting for team Army, but it’s also hard not to cheer on the other athletes that I’ve met,” said Salemink. “Obviously I want Team Army to win, but I also want them to personally win as well.”
The Warrior Games was created in 2010 and previously overseen by the U.S. Olympic Committee, the DoD assumed the lead role for organizing the Warrior Games in 2015 to better align the event with the Games’ core mission of playing a vital role in recovery for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.
This is the first year that the Warrior Games was held entirely outside a military installation or a U.S. Olympic Committee facility, making the events much more accessible to the public.
“I think that Warrior Games isn’t something that the World knows about, or even America knows about,” explains Salemink. “They don’t know that there’s a competition for service members that were wounded in combat, injured elsewhere or ill, PSTD, or TBI issues.”
Salemink plans to continue training with her wheelchair racer and her Bow that she received from the Crossroads Wounded Warrior Archery Foundation while she was in the WTB. She will train at Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities, a U.S. Paralympics site that supports veterans’ training needs with adaptive sports and equipment. Salemink says she would love to come back and compete on Team Army again next year, which will be held at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. However, in the time between now and next year’s trials she plans to find other events in which she can race. She also plans to find ways to get her husband and children involved as well.
“It’s been really great to see our kids also rally around mommy’s training, and riding their bicycles alongside her training in her wheelchair racer,” said husband Salemink “and we’re looking at some family bike rides and trying to involve the whole family.”
Salemink’s middle child was born with a club foot and she wants to introduce her son to the Adaptive Community.
“To see there’s adaptive sports out there for him, that with after his surgical interventions and everything else he may have to go through that he may still be able to compete,” said Salemink. “Just the encouragement and the pride that comes along with giving something your all.”
“I am adaptive, I am Team Army,” said Salemink.