COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. —
Loud applause greeted medically retired Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Dieli as he crossed the finish line of the 100-meter race during the 2018 Defense Department Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy here June 2.
Dieli kissed his wife, Carolina, who hugged and congratulated him for earning a silver medal at his first Warrior Games. He went on to earn two more silver medals in the 200-meter and 400-meter races.
Carolina said her husband was depressed and didn’t want to run at all before the Navy trials, where wounded, ill or injured sailors can try out to compete in the Warrior Games.
Anthony used to be a runner, she said, before he developed Alzheimer’s, a neurogenerative disease that causes short-term memory loss and loss of motor skills.
“He was dragging his leg and was upset and said, ‘I don’t want to do this,’” Carolina said. “His motor skills have changed a lot. But once he started trying everything, like the bicycle, you should’ve seen his face. It was like watching a little kid, giving him a toy on Christmas.”
Anthony said his interest in sports was rejuvenated, and he started training.
“It took time, all the camps we went to, and I started getting better. I didn’t want to just come here without doing anything, especially when I know I can run. I just had to build it up again,” he said.
One, Big Family
Carolina said her husband was initially worried that his teammates wouldn’t accept him. But now, she said, they’re one, big family.
“It’s a whole new family; brothers, sisters, everyone’s really supportive,” Carolina said.
Anthony met Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Rob Jones during running practice for the track events, and they learned about each other’s experiences. During the 400-meter, Jones finished the run and doubled back to finish with Anthony.
“The Warrior Games are about more than just winning,” Jones said. “They’re about the camaraderie service members share, and using that camaraderie alongside competition to help each other keep fighting through our injuries.”
Jones saluted Anthony’s effort in the 400-meter race.
“When I saw him rounding the second turn while I had already finished, I remembered how important it had been for me to have individuals to emulate and encourage me to keep fighting,” Jones said. “I wanted to show him encouragement and let him know that he was not fighting alone. He didn’t need any help to finish that race. He would’ve done it with or without me because he’s a fighter. I simply hope that my actions were able to add at least one iota to his ability to stay in the fight.”
Anthony said he was motivated to finish the race with his friend.
‘It Felt Good Crossing the Finish Line’
“It felt good crossing the finish line. I want to do another one,” he said.
Anthony went from not wanting to run at the Navy trials to running the 100-meter and 200-meter dash. He wasn’t scheduled to run the 400-meter, but he told Carolina that he was too excited not to sit it out.
“I don’t want to sit in the shade and watch. I want to run,” he said. Three runs and silver medals later, he said he’s looking forward to cycling and running again.
Carolina and Anthony have been married nine years. She was divorced with two daughters, Rachelle, now 14, and Monserrat, now 13.
Carolina first met Anthony one evening when she went out with her sister and friends.
“Since I divorced, I never really went out, but my sister convinced me to go out to this place in San Diego,” Carolina recalled.
She said her sister brought along her male roommate, Anthony.
“I didn’t even know she had a roommate,” Carolina said.
As the night progressed, men started hitting on her, Carolina said. She then asked Anthony if he would stay with her so the men would go away.
Carolina said Anthony began flirting with her, so she tried to scare him away by telling him she was divorced with children.
“He said, ‘Cool, I’m divorced and I have a daughter,’” said Carolina, who noted she then became interested in Anthony.
“When I met her, I was already making plans in my head. Everything started rolling. Every time I would get off of work, I was going to visit her,” Anthony said of Carolina. He said he just knew when he met her that he would marry her.
Carolina jokes that Anthony didn’t have a ring when he proposed. “Who says yes to that?” she laughed. “I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ It took me three months, and I picked out my own ring.”
Anthony said he joined the military without telling Carolina.
“I proposed while I training in Pensacola, [Florida,] and she was still in California,” he said. “She said yes on the phone while I was at [Naval Air Station] Whidbey Island, [Washington,] and I eventually got her there.”
Anthony’s daughter, Haili, 16, gets along well with Carolina’s daughters and with Carolina’s family, many of them who are also women, the couple said.
“It’s a struggle for me, all these girls,” Anthony said, smiling. “I had a boy dog I could snuggle. We’re trying to get another one.”
“We can get a girl dog,” Carolina said.
She recalled the time when Anthony tripped on some stairs at a restaurant.
“We’re at this restaurant, and there’s this big sign that says, ‘Watch your step.’ My daughter even says, ‘Anthony, look, watch your step,’” Carolina recalled. “He stepped and turns and tried to grab plates from our table and from the table next to us so there’s food flying and he’s falling. He’s falling in slow motion. I don’t know how he does it. I want to fall in slow motion.
“The whole restaurant stopped,” she continued. “There’s food all over the place. I was crying; we were all laughing so hard.”
At cycling practice at the Warrior Games here, Carolina recalled she was resting when some athletes came up to her to tell her Anthony had just crashed. She checked Anthony out and saw that nothing was broken, just road rash on his arm.
“I started laughing and making jokes about it. They were like, ‘You guys are weird.’ That’s what we do. We laugh. We can’t help it,” she said.
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)