COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO – “Rise above…Find a way!” is the motto of Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Battalion of Fort Carson a United States Army installation near Colorado Springs, CO.
The United States Army established Warrior Transition Units (WTU) at major military treatment facilities across the world to build strength, cohesion, and teamwork while soldiers are in recovery. In 2010, the United States Olympic Committee became involved and integrated Paralympic sports into the WTU programs using the Paralympic Model.
Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Unit, Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB), was established in 2007. Fort Carson’s WTB provides adaptive sports and personalized support to wounded, ill, and injured service members in rehabilitative care. They offer 14 different programs per week, one of which is wheelchair basketball.
Being a Paralympic Sport, wheelchair basketball has been a part of Fort Carson’s WTB program since 2012. The program practices every Wednesday and Thursday from 8:00-9:00 a.m. at Iron Horse Physical Fitness Center on Fort Carson.
Marc Cattapan, Military Adaptive Reconditioning Program Site Coordinator of Fort Carson’s WTB says that the greatest challenge to participants of their program is, “Fear of the chair”. However the more people they see in a chair helps them overcome this fear. In fact, gym patrons passing on the Iron Horse track overlooking the basketball courts will often see their practice and stop to ask, “How can we get involved? That looks fun!”.
Cattapan shares his thoughts on the Fort Carson WTB program, “It’s a great workout that makes them [soldiers] feel a part of a team and get that team chemistry. It gets their blood pumping and the competitiveness makes them feel like an athlete again. With an injury, illness, or wound, the athletic component of being a solider gets lots pretty quickly, and that athletic component is something their personality and their job requires them. So this program [wheelchair basketball] gets them back in the game of being an athlete”.
The benefits of being active in the sport of wheelchair basketball extend off the court. Cattapan sees these non-physical benefits of exercise first hand as he states, “I often hear soldiers say ‘Wow! I finally have a release for all the stress and frustration of going to rehab.”
Corey Sandoval of Colorado Springs, Colorado says, “Wheelchair basketball is easy to pick up and learn. Anyone can do it, regardless of their disability. It’s an activity to enjoy with other people,” said Sandoval. Sandoval is a retired Staff Sargent of the U.S. Air Force, who was first exposed to wheelchair basketball through United States Air Force Academy Wounded Warrior Program (WWP). The U.S. Air Force’s WWP is equivalent to the U.S. Army’s Warrior Transition program.
To increase and encourage cohesion, teamwork, and competition, the Warrior Transition Units often look for opportunities to play other military branches including: Air Force, Marines, Navy and National Guard. To enhance competition and training at the local level, Cattapan invited the U.S. Air Force Academy Wound Warrior Program to join his practices. During these games, athletes tell Cattapan, “Don’t take me out of the game, I want to crush them!”.
Although they might have initially joined for the entertainment aspect, many continue to play for the competitive and physical components. “It’s a great workout. I enjoy the competitiveness and face-past environment of the game,” Sandoval said.
“Playing today was more than a challenge than I was expecting. It’s as challenging as regular basketball but different in the core and upper body. It’s a great upper body workout,” said Major Jean-Luc Houlne of the U.S. Army. Houlne played wheelchair basketball for the first time on Thursday, November 2 during the practice for Fort Carson Warrior Transition Battalion. Houlne joined the WTB program after he hurt his back and lower body in December 2016.
Houlne first day of wheelchair basketball was filled with warm up laps, Sharks and Minnows and a free-for-all scrimmage. Although he was not expecting such an intense workout, Major Houlne said, “I enjoyed the game and I’m looking to get back out on the court again”.
The future of the program is up to the Department of Defense but Cattapan hopes that the program will grow large enough that his athletes will have the opportunity to represent themselves and the program at the Warrior Games, Invictus Games and Paralympics.
About 25% of Paralympic athletes that competed in the 2016 Rio Paralympics were service men and women. Cattapan hopes that one of his athletes will be a part of this number one day.
Fort Carson Warrior Transition Battalion has several upcoming events this November. The WTB is having a demonstration November 16 from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at Iron Horse Physical Fitness Center, Fort Carson. The demonstration includes education about wheelchair basketball, the program and how it has helped rehabilitate soldiers at Fort Carson. Members of the Denver Rolling Nuggets will be present for this event. The month will conclude for the Fort Carson WTB with a game against the United States Air Force Academy Wounded Warrior Program. The game will be hosted by Fort Carson WTB on November 28 from 8:00-10:00 a.m. The competition will be fierce as bragging rights are on the line for the Army and Air Force.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association is excited to celebrate “Veteran’s Week”. Veteran’s Week highlights the United States Armed Forces within the NWBA. The United States Armed Forces consist of Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The United States has recognized this observed holiday since 1918, though under the name Veteran’s Day since 1954. The NWBA’s Veteran’s Week will conclude on 99th university of Veteran’s Day on Saturday, November 11.