The final day of the Warrior Games started at early doors with the remainder of the athletics track competition.
Although she competed in her race in the first part of the meet earlier in the week, Sue Warner was undoubtedly the star of the show.
It was only 100 metres but to Sue, a former Royal Navy Senior Nursing Officer, it may as well have been 100 miles. She walked her 100 metre ‘dash’, as it’s known, on Tuesday, claiming a silver medal. It didn’t matter that there were only two in the category and she finished three minutes behind the gold medal winner.
Just crossing the finish line was a feat in itself for Sue. She usually walks using sticks as she has major mobility problems, but chose her race at the Warrior Games to prove to herself, and the enthusiastic crowd, that she could do it unaided.
She completed the race in 3m34s with the entire crowd including athletes from other teams supporting her the whole way. The shouts of encouragement were deafening, the applause constant and the emotional reaction from Sue and her teammates at the finish line expected.
When asked about her injuries, Sue replied: “I just sustained multiple fractures in an accident during service in 2009.” The word ‘just’ exemplifies Sue’s attitude. She suffered major injuries yet, like so many, doesn’t complain and describes it as par for the course. She was in plaster for some time, then started using a wheelchair before moving on to crutches for the next two years. After a while using a stick, she tried without but had to revert back to the walking aid after finding it too tough.
Sue takes her injuries in her stride. It’s the sudden end to her 38 year career in nursing, which included a stint with the NHS as part of the Royal Navy, which she struggles to deal with.
“The impact of the accident for me was major life changes,” explains Sue. Physically, my mobility was restricted, but when you look at the wider picture, it was like closing a door to nursing. That loss of purpose and meaning to life meant I had to go through a grieving process. It’s like having to work through an ending that you didn’t expect.”
Eighteen months ago Sue met Jayne Kavanagh, Help for Heroes’ Performance Pathway Manager, on a Front Line to Start Line swimming programme, a partnership between the charity and the British Paralympic Association to introduce wounded service personnel and veterans to Paralympic sport.
“That was a stimulus for me for my recovery,” said Sue. “I learnt to swim and had no idea how life changing that would be. It helped me to build my muscles back up and increase my strength, and stamina. And it helped me get to the Warrior Games.”
Sue attended the US Air Force Wounded Warrior Trials in Nevada earlier this year as a select British team. She completed the same 100m race there.
“It was a great honour to be there and to have that opportunity was phenomenal. The support from our team and the Air Force was very moving. My 100m race there went well. At that point it was like realising I was able to walk which was amazing and extremely emotional. It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to do the race as a walk. I was far more restricted walking then. This time I had a lot more movement. I’ve been working so hard building up my muscles again and the strength to be able to do it.
“Walking the race itself is very heartfelt, emotional and pertinent. It was interesting doing it, as the start line reminded me to let go of the past, to take steps forward and remember the people around me, the athletes here and their amazing achievements. To remember how this group of people have come together to celebrate what we can do rather than what we can’t.”
“I’m one of the oldest here so it made me think of the next generation of wounded warriors and the new beginnings they’ll have, and what they’ll bring. It made me think of Great Britain and the USA working together. To get to the finish line is celebrating that there is a new beginning out there and there is a way to move forward, with so much support from everybody around us.”
As well as the athletics, Sue also competed in the swimming event, gaining two more silver medals and doing exceptionally well for someone who has only recently discovered the sport.
That's a wrap
The six competing teams alongside their support staff and spectators were treated to a closing ceremony which included performances from the US Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps as wel las the Silent Drill Platoon.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O Work, who addressed the teams at the Capitol last week and since visited the Games, offered some parting words.
He said: “I want to recognise the warrior athletes including the British athletes who travelled all the way across the pond to show us the spirit that they are famously known for. We have stood beside each other and we have bled beside each other, as we take the fight for freedom to wherever that may be found. We salute you.”
In his speech a select few athletes were highlighted for their contribution to the Games, which included Britain’s Gemma Dacey, for their courage, resilience and fighting spirit. Gemma overcame a setback in an earlier competition and an ongoing battle with anxiety to win a silver medal in the shooting event.
Major General Richard Cripwell with the British Army also addressed the athletes, saying: “I said we were not here to make up the numbers. All of the competitors here know life is not a dummy run. Competition teaches us all something about ourselves. ‘If’, a poem by Rudyard Kipling, tells us to treat triumph and disaster in the same way and not to be intimidated by either. This surely is where everybody is a winner.
“I asked someone from the British team if I should say anything in my speech and they said ‘Yes, Sir. We’re amazing’. The real truth of this week is you’ve all been amazing and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”
At the dinner following the closing ceremony a further award was presented by the family of Staff Sergeant Jacob Rich, who lost his life to spinal cord cancer last month and had found solace in adaptive sports in recent years.
The award was presented to British Armed Forces athlete Darren Carew, a veteran Army Sergeant of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, for his selfless actions in supporting and assisting fellow military athletes throughout the Warrior Games, exemplifying the spirit of Staff Sergeant Rich as an athlete, with exceptional sportsmanship, perseverance and overall commitment to his team and fellow service members.
Darren, as well as competing in his own sports, coached his teammates in shot put and discus, giving up his own training time to make sure they learnt what was needed to achieve their best in the field competition, alongside teammate Scotty Darroch. Furthermore, on the day of the field competition, Darren took the time to offer advice to athletes in other teams as he competed against them. One of these went on to win gold in his discus category after putting into practice the advice given to him.
Nominations for the award came from the athletes themselves; Darren’s selfless acts did not go unnoticed.
Darren said: “I’m really shocked and absolutely honoured. It was completely unexpected, I was just being me. There’s no dressing it up, I’m just being a team player. It’s nice to be able to be a team player again.”
Rob Cromey-Hawke, team captain, said: “I’m very proud. It was very well deserved. His character has brought cheer to everyone throughout the Games.”
The Final Count
Team British Armed Forces finished the games with a medal count of 85, in fourth place just two points behind the Air Force. But nobody is concerned about the final tally within the team. The question has not even been asked. It’s what the team will take away from this that matters most.