The unstoppable Air Force team won gold at the Pentagon’s sitting volleyball tournament on Thursday. Other teams included the Marine Corps veterans, who earned silver, and the Army, who battled for the bronze.
In addition to winning the match, the Air Force also hosted the 5th Annual Warrior Care Month of Joint Services for the Sitting Volleyball Tournament. They took first place after winning five consecutive matches. Their coach, Kari Miller, said she was retiring on a high note after these victories. Her team almost struck gold this summer at the Warrior Games, but ended up leaving with the silver medal. This week was their time to gel, she said.
In the morning, the team dominated each round-robin preliminary play. Then they returned in the afternoon, beating out the Special Operations command in the semifinals, 25 – 19 and 25 – 17.
In the final match, the Air Force stood victorious over the Marine Corps, with a score of 25 – 15 and 25 – 20.
Secretary of Defense Ash Cartier said to the athletes, “We are so proud of you. To those who are wounded warriors, we have a special reverence and a special debt and a special respect and it grows even greater when we see the sports proficiency you’re able to show.”
One of the army’s players, Sgt. Stefan LeRoy, was wounded by an explosive device that forced him to get prosthetic legs at the age of 24.
“I think Warrior Care Month is a great thing to show people how sports and the Warrior Training Command has been helping us continue our recovery… these events really showcase what we’re all capable of doing in adaptive sports,” said LeRoy. “We have great sportsmanship, comradery and great spirit because, while the injuries may be a different, we still know the struggles and mindset of each other.”
One of the Air Force’s players Sgt. Daniel Crane was stationed in Guam in the Western Pacific about four years into his enlistment, when a man shot him in the arm, leading to its amputation.
Despite suffering from chronic PTSD and spinal nerve issues, he continues to work as a CrossFit trainer at two gyms and play sitting volleyball. “I just don’t show it… I try to put on a smile because I know if I can be inspiring to somebody by playing these adaptive sports, then that’s all I want to do to keep helping others,” Crane said.
The sole woman on the Navy’s team, Lt. Cmdr. Maria Gomez-Mannix has faced multiple bouts of chemotherapy in her ongoing battle with breast cancer. “I know I’ll be laid up for a little while, so I’m here just trying to have as much fun as possible,” she said. “Going through chemo changed my energy level for sure, so it challenges me to come out and use all the energy I have and make the most of it.”
After playing stand-up volleyball for many years, she says the seated version is helpful for developing strong upper body strength.
“I think everybody that’s part of the Wounded Warrior adaptive sports program would say they feel honored and privileged to be able to play on these teams,” she said. “It helps recovery, not just emotionally and physically, but the friendship and comradery we make — there’s nothing like what you have in the military. It’s just unfortunate this program wasn’t around for the Vietnam and Desert Storm veterans; it could have helped so many of them too.”
The J.D. Leipold Army News Service contributed to this post.