HOUSTON (Feb. 15, 2017) – During the biggest night in football, one warrior served by Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) was able to experience the action up close. While attending an event hosted by USAA® and the NFL, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Marcelino Gonzalez was chosen as the lucky winner for two free tickets – donated by the NFL – to Super Bowl LI. He and his wife enjoyed the game, close to the field – and another prominent attendee.
“The feeling of being there was surreal,” Marcelino said. “Going to the Super Bowl is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To experience it with my wife made it even better. My seats were in a great section, 40 feet from Vice President Mike Pence. It was an amazing game.”
While Marcelino and his wife are both Texans fans, they decided to each pick a winner for the game, igniting a friendly rivalry that carried through the four quarters of play.
“I was going for the Falcons, and my wife was rooting for the Patriots,” he explained. “We were both teasing each other – it looked like game over. So when the Patriots started coming back, I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t live it down for several days after the game ended. The whole event was a great way for us to have some quality time together and make memories.”
The NFL also donated 50 tickets to warriors and their families to attend the Pro Bowl in Orlando, providing them an opportunity to connect with other veterans in their area. These bonds create important support systems that help warriors recover from the wounds of war. It’s a feeling that Marcelino is familiar with, as he experienced how WWP serves veterans long before he registered with the nonprofit.
“I used to be a Galveston police officer, and I was familiar with Wounded Warrior Project through working at their motivation runs,” Marcelino said. “Everything I saw then remains true now. I told veterans who weren’t from Wounded Warrior Project what the organization did for me when I was struggling to get benefits. I think I got some other veterans interested in joining.”
Marcelino was injured during his tour in Iraq, which has taken a toll on him financially and physically. “Having a limp at 35 really makes you feel old,” he explained.
However, while attending events with WWP, he saw other young veterans were struggling too. It was a situation that comforted Marcelino, despite the circumstances around it.
“At a gathering before the Super Bowl, I saw some really young guys with canes because of back or leg injuries,” he said. “It surprised me, but I felt more comfortable, knowing there wouldn’t be any judgments and we all understood one another. Spending time with other veterans makes it real that you’re not the only one struggling, and you don’t have to struggle alone.”
Isolation is one of the most significant struggles wounded warriors deal with after serving their country. It can be difficult knowing how to overcome that challenge and rekindle bonds similar to those formed in the military. In a WWP survey of the injured warriors it serves, more than half of survey respondents (51.7 percent) talked with fellow veterans to address their mental health issues.
“Just chatting with warriors in that environment helped me relax and forget about my social anxiety,” Marcelino said. “There were other Marines there who were reserved, too. Some veterans might think Wounded Warrior Project is all meetings and talking. It’s nothing like that – the staff do whatever they can to make you feel welcome and give you something to build a relationship around. Everyone comes to the organization for different reasons. I joined because I needed help with my benefits. Wounded Warrior Project made sure I was taken care of, and they’re still helping me to this day. Every time, I walk away from my experiences with Wounded Warrior Project wanting to do more with them and with my own life.”
To find photos from this event, click on multimedia, then images.
Contact: Mattison Brooks – Public Relations Specialist
About Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) connects, serves, and empowers wounded warriors. Read more at https://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org.