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From Aspiration to Movement: The Transformative Journey of Adaptive Sports

Army veteran Greg Quarles showcases his medals from past Warrior Games competitions. Greg is a coach for Team Army in this year’s event.

After more than two decades in the U.S. Army, Greg Quarles found himself rehabbing in a Soldier Recovery Unit, seeking for ways to regain his sense of purpose, camaraderie, and physical health.

He found his answer in Adaptive Sports, and – though he was severely injured in combat and underwent spinal surgery just weeks earlier – he tried cycling on a recumbent bike, an effort to gradually build his strength and confidence.

Now, in 2024, Greg is a coach for Team Army on one of the biggest stages in the world: the Department of Defense’s annual Warrior Games, a showcase of the resilience and competitive spirit of wounded veterans that boasts Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) as a platinum sponsor.

Greg competed in them before and was quite successful. This year, he’s putting his talents to work helping other warriors navigate the games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando June 21 to 30.

Although high-level competitions serve as one of the ultimate showings of the power of adaptive sports, for most wounded veterans, adaptive sports have helped transform their lives on a much more practical level.

“If you want to push yourself and be in the Warrior Games, you can,” Greg said. “But that’s not what adaptive sports are intended for. They’re intended to help you both mentally and physically in your recovery and to give you a new outlet and way of thinking.”

Reclaiming Life Through Movement

Whether it’s competing at a high level or simply enjoying a workout in the evening, adaptive sports introduce veterans to new possibilities.

According to WWP’s Warrior Survey*, more than 3 in 4 warriors experience moderate to severe pain, which can limit their participation in traditional sports. For more than half of WWP warriors, engaging in physical activity helps them cope with stress and emotional or mental health concerns.

“Adaptive sports aren't just about competition — they're about rediscovering your capabilities and potential after injury or disability,” said Mike Owens, the director of WWP’s Adaptive Sports program. “Seeing our veterans push past perceived limitations and reclaim their lives is incredibly inspiring."

WWP’s Adaptive Sports program helps veterans with significant injuries engage in specially modified athletic activities, enhancing their self-confidence and quality of life. The impact extends beyond individual achievements; it’s meant to foster a sense of community and mutual support among veterans.

Greg says his involvement with WWP and competitive adaptive sports has introduced him to a network of people with similar experiences and challenges – something that was missing in his life before.

Si Wilson, an Army veteran and WWP Soldier Ride teammate, coaches a cyclist at Ft. Benning Regional Trials in 2017.

Si Wilson, an Army veteran and WWP Soldier Ride teammate, coaches a cyclist at Ft. Benning Regional Trials in 2017. Si was a mechanic for Team Army at the 2012 Warrior Games and coached the team’s cycling squad a few years later.

“WWP opened the door,” Greg said. “It allowed me to meet new people with the same frame of mind as me and to go different places and have a bigger brother and sisterhood of people I could count on.”

There aren’t predefined paths for wounded veterans in adaptive sports. Some may compete at a high level, while others may play recreationally to supplement other aspects of their physical and mental wellness.

Greg’s journey is a testament to the power of adaptive sports. He was pushing 360 pounds post-injury, struggling with the side effects of medications and surgeries. Through adaptive sports, he found a renewed sense of health and purpose.

“Getting back into adaptive sports gives you that drive again and makes you want to be active and participate in things,” Greg said, noting that his diet also improved.

Grit and Glory

The transformative nature of adaptive sports is a key part of Si Wilson’s journey, too. Si, an Army veteran and WWP Soldier Ride teammate, started as a mechanic for Team Army at the 2012 Warrior Games and moved on to the Head Coach role for Army Cycling just a few years later.

Si notes that the pathway to Warrior Games, for those who choose to travel it, involves rigorous training and selection. Aspiring participants begin with introductory competitions at their respective Soldier Recovery Units, progress through regional competitions, and advance on to their branch’s trials, the final selection camp where the best of the best vie for a spot on the team.

The payoff is the electric atmosphere of the Games, Si says – a grand reward for months, and sometimes years, of tense preparation.

“There’s tension. There are butterflies,” Si said. “But even despite the intense competition, everybody’s supportive of each other, regardless of the team you’re on.”

For those who use adaptive sports as a daily aspect of their recovery, it’s holistic. Their determination is evident not just in competitive settings, but in everyday life as injured veterans rediscover their potential and capabilities.

“Having coached elite able-bodied athletes, the thing that sets [adaptive] athletes apart is 100% their grit – and an extra level of determination,” Si said.

Supporters of WWP make it possible for the organization to provide free programs and services to continue these life-changing opportunities for veterans.

*Warrior Survey, Wave 2 (conducted June 15-Aug. 24, 2022)  

Contact: Julian Routh, Public Relations, jrouth@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.544.0195

About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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