The official start of the 2013 Warrior Games began when Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder, with the help of Prince Harry and Olympian Missy Franklin, lit the official cauldron May 11 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
From May 11-16, more than 200 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from the Marines, Army, Air Force and Navy, as well as a team representing U.S. Special Operations Command and an international team representing the United Kingdom, will compete for the gold in track and field, shooting, swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and U.S. Air Force Academy.
The military service with the most medals will win the Chairman’s Cup.
Snyder said he was honored to light the cauldron.
"I am humbled by the opportunity to still be a part of something very near and dear to my heart," Snyder said.
Adding, "The Warrior Games have already had an impact on so many lives, and I am truly honored to represent the U.S. Navy in broadening the event."
While serving in Afghanistan in 2011, Snyder lost his vision when an improvised explosive device detonated.
He competed in the 2012 Warrior Games and later that year, he went on to qualify in swimming for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where he won two gold medals and one silver medal. Snyder won the men’s 400-meter freestyle on the exact one-year anniversary of his injury.
Vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., a third-time Warrior Games attendee, spoke at the event.
"Our nation’s wounded, ill and injured are very special people to me and my wife, Mary, and they will continue to be special to us. This is the highlight of our year, every year," he said.
Winnefield told the athletes they are the best of the best.
"You warriors are here because of your willingness to overcome great challenges, the challenges of illness and injury, both seen and unseen, coupled with the challenges that any superior athlete must overcome in achieving greatness," he said to them.
Adding, "Your heroism and determination are an inspiration. Whenever I’m having a bad day or I’m facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge, I just think of you, and my day becomes a very nice day."
Winnefeld also recognized the family members of the athletes who serve as caregivers.
"Mary and I extend our heartfelt thanks to the family members and friends of our athletes here today, especially those who unselfishly dropped everything else in their lives to become dedicated caregivers," he said.
"It’s very hard work, and it’s often overlooked. They are very special people," he added.
The Warrior Games were created in 2010 as an introduction to adaptive sports and reconditioning activities for service members and veterans.
Adaptive sports and reconditioning are linked to a variety of benefits for wounded, ill, and injured service members across all branches of the military.
They include less stress, reduced dependency on pain and depression medication, fewer secondary medical conditions, higher achievement in education and employment, increased independence, increased self-confidence, and increased mobility.
The fourth annual Warrior Games is hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee and supported by the Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, USO, Fisher House Foundation, the Semper Fi Fund, the Bob Woodruff Foundation and other corporate sponsors.
"We are proud to host the Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy," Charlie Huebner, the chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympics Committee, said in a press release.
"Paralympic sport has a tremendously positive impact on individuals with physical disabilities, and the Warrior Games allow us to salute these fine young men and women who have served their countries honorably," he added.