Coaches Help Warrior Games Athletes Achieve Goals

June 05, 2018

Athletes competing at the 2018 Defense Department Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy here earned spots on their teams with the help of their coaches.

Throughout the week, the coaches will support their athletes as they compete in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and the new sports added to the Warrior Games — powerlifting, indoor rowing and the time criterion for cycling.

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Richard “Trainwreck” Burkett, a national-level archery coach at the games, began his journey as a wounded warrior, learning archery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He earned certifications and began training other wounded warriors from all service branches and competed at the Invictus Games in 2014 in the compound bow, earning a gold medal.

Burkett, served 22 years in the Marines and piloted MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. He’s ranked third in the nation for his division on the U.S. National Archery Team.

‘There’s a Passion That’s Been Ignited’

Helping athletes on the archery range helps them build confidence in other areas, he said.

“It gives them confidence and something to wake up in the morning and look forward to, something to take with them besides a medal or besides the experience,” Burkett said. “There’s a passion that’s been ignited. If they can drive that arrow into that tiny little circle 20 yards away, what else can they do?”

And, “there’s a level of pride and satisfaction when these guys win and do well. And they turn around, and you see the smile on their faces. That’s better than anything,” he added.

Medically retired Marine Corps Sgt. Dan Govier is also a nationally ranked Marine archery coach. He competed at the first three Warrior Games and earned gold medals in the recurve competition for the individual events and three gold medals in the team events.

Both Marines said their medals don’t mean as much as helping train the new athletes and helping them get from athlete to coach, such as this year’s returning compound archer, retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Doug Godfrey Jr., who served 15 years as a logistics chief.

“I want him to wear this jersey,” Burkett said, pointing to his coach jersey. “I want it to say ‘Godfrey’ on the back of it. I want him to be a teammate of mine. He’s got the talent to do it.”

Govier said he enjoys watching the athletes recover from injury and gain confidence. 

“I’ve seen archery help out guys with strokes and [traumatic brain injuries]. One of our recurve shooters had a terrible stuttering issue after his stroke and now he’s able to hold full conversations with you after two years,” he said. “Archery has done a lot for him. This program has helped build his confidence to get him around the guys again — just having that sense of team. In the Marine Corps, we believe in team. We’re a family. Once a Marine, you’re always a Marine. We’re friends for life.”

Godfrey, who has a spinal injury, will go to the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia, with Burkett as his coach in October. He said Govier helped him last year during the tournament.

Marine Corps head coach Michael Kleinert, water sport specialist for Wounded Warrior Battalion West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, has attended the Warrior Games for the past seven years.

Kleinert said he loves being the swimming coach for wounded warriors.

‘It’s Important for These Guys to Find a Positive Outlet’

“It’s important for these guys to find a positive outlet,” he said. “To see these guys, maybe being at a low point in their life and just getting into a hole filled with water and coming out of it and really feeling great about themselves and great about where their life can be. That’s something special to see, that transformation. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Kleinert said the games are all about recovery and what’s next for the athletes.

“Hopefully, this gives them a spark to be motivated in other areas of their life, too,” he said.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Robert Dominguez said Kleinert saw him swimming at Camp Pendleton and told him about the trials and games.

“He’s been helping us through the whole process of trials all the way through the games, trying to prepare us for this competition. He’s very inspiring, motivating, always pushing us to the next level,” Dominguez said of Kleinert.

Dominguez said he injured his back and can’t run anymore, so he took up swimming and cycling. “Mike’s going to keep working with me and training me, even if I get out of the military,” he said. “I’m hoping to make the team again next year and hopefully make it to Invictus.”

Royal Air Force Warrant Officer Simon Chapman, who’s served as a policeman for 32 years, has an injured right leg and two prosthetic hips due to a head-on collision with a car while he was performing a cycling time criterion. 

He swam competitively 30 years ago and had been cycling on an interservice military team when he was injured in 2007. Chapman is competing in the cycling events here.

“The accident knocked my confidence a little on the bike. And always being good at any type of sport, and having lost some of my power, I thought I wouldn’t be able to get back on a bike again,” he said. “I’ve been training every night, even in bad weather, out in my garage.”

‘The Coaches Have Been Fantastic’

Chapman said he’s attended two training camps with a British Paralympic swim coach. “The coaches have been fantastic,” he said. “She changed my stroke. My stroke’s more efficient through the water. She’s made swimming easier for me to be honest, especially at my age.”

He said the cycling coach helped as well, having them race 60-70 mph on an old racetrack. “I thought I was a good cyclist; I thought I was a competent cyclist,” he said. “We were racing throughout the whole period, side by side in groups, teaching us corners safely, next to people. It’s been a brilliant experience.”

Chapman said having support staff is important. “They know how to speak to you, be with you, how to encourage you and make your journey better,” he said. “Injuries shouldn’t stop you from doing sport. I’ve seen people who haven’t been able to get out of the house. And being through this journey, and now, in front of cameras, here in the States, can’t be better than that?”

Retired Royal Australian Navy Warrant Officer Geoffrey Stokes, the head coach for Australia, said his athletes achieved a lot of personal bests so far at the games and gelled as a team.

“We’re really pleased to be over here and really grateful for the invitation to come here and participate in this fantastic event,” Stokes said. “It’s all about socializing with like-minded people who are going through the same journey.”

From now until July 9, about 300 wounded, ill and injured service members representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command, along with allied armed forces from the United Kingdom, Australia, and for the first time Canada are competing here at the 2018 DoD Warrior Games.

(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)