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Wounded Warriors Adapting with Help of Sports and Fitness

Wounded Warrior events ranging from sports camps to bike races provide fitness facilities a unique opportunity to set up training programs to get returning military men and women ready for such events.

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When troops deploy for action, friends, family and the entire country's first hope is that those troops make it home. Secondly, we hope they make it home safely. Unfortunately, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, estimates show that more than 50,000 military personnel have been injured in combat, many of them seriously.

For some returning vets, just tackling day-to-day tasks can be daunting while overcoming injuries. However, others may continue to lead a healthy and active lifestyle playing sports, working out and staying in shape. Others fall somewhere in between.

"Many of the returning wounded warriors are very young and have a very long life expectancy and need to be healthy and active like everyone else," says Cherisse Young, fundraising & marketing director for Adaptive Sports Foundation (ASF). "Half of our attendees have skied or kayaked before and for others, it is new to them. But for both groups it gets them up and moving and the accomplishment is often a first step toward resuming their life."

Located at Windham Mountain in New York, the ASF serves as a regional site for the dissemination of a year-round Warriors in Motion program for troops injured in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is funded in part by the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Since 2005, the ASF has served more than 1,000 injured warriors in sporting events ranging from kayaking to skiing and obstacle races.

But solo sports are not the only way for returning vets to transition back from full-time warriors to the weekend warriors they were prior to heading overseas. Adaptive sports camps and programs are also gaining speed both on and off bases around the country.

Recently a camp hosted by the Air Force Wounded Warrior's (AFW2) Adaptive Sports Program staff, which uses sports as a part of the healing process for wounded, injured, and ill Airmen, was held at Andrews Air Force Base. This was the first Air Force Wounded Warriors Adaptive Sports Camp held especially for the patients at Andrews and Joint Base Langley-Eustis. According to reports, the camp had about 30 participants in sports such as wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, archery, swimming, air rifle/pistol shooting and track and field.

"The Air Force Association is excited to participate in this wonderful program and engage with our Airmen," says Dick Newton, AFA Executive Vice President. "AFW2 is doing invaluable work to provide continuing care to our Airmen and their families during all stages of their recovery and rehabilitation."

But there is more benefit from getting these recovering warriors up and moving. It goes far beyond the physical and helps the injuries that can't be seen.

"Around 2009 the country as a whole started looking more at the brain injuries and emotional ones such as PTSD," Young says. "Fitness and events such as these can make a real impact in helping the injured overcome that side and learn to think about their health and nutrition on their own as well."

Wounded Warrior events ranging from sports camps to bike races provide fitness facilities a unique opportunity to set up training programs to get returning injured military men and women ready for such events, and keep them moving long after.

"WWP is collecting data over the last two years tracking wounded warriors after they attend an event like ours to see how effective these types of events are at effecting positive long term change in relation to physical fitness of the wounded warrior, adds Young. "The jury is still out as the data is being collected. However, so far, it is trending to affecting some sort of positive change on the active lifestyle front."

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