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All in with medical support during Warrior Games

About 60 medical professionals in the Military Health System have volunteered to work at the DoD Warrior Games to support competitors including Army 1st Sgt. Jay Collins (above), who's scheduled to run, cycle, and row - among other events - as a member of the U.S. Special Operations Command team. (Photo courtesy USSOCOM Office of Communication) About 60 medical professionals in the Military Health System have volunteered to work at the DoD Warrior Games to support competitors including Army 1st Sgt. Jay Collins (above), who's scheduled to run, cycle, and row - among other events - as a member of the U.S. Special Operations Command team. (Photo courtesy USSOCOM Office of Communication)

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Service members and veterans competing in the 2018 DoD Warrior Games have worked diligently to become competitive athletes. Yet their performances at this event may hinge on a wild card: altitude. The games are taking place at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

 “We’re 7,250 feet above sea level,” notes Air Force Lt. Col. Amy Costello, chief of preventive medicine at the Academy and lead medical officer for the games.

A high elevation means less oxygen in the air. This can lead to reduced physical and mental performance, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Center. While endurance may be diminished, people with high levels of cardiovascular fitness are less likely to be affected by altitude, the Academy notes on its website.

 “Each team has its own unique footprint, from a medical care perspective,” Costello said. “Some are bringing their own doctors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and technicians. We’ve built an extensive medical network infrastructure so that any team can plug into it if they need assistance.”

That infrastructure includes a primary sick call area and supporting medical tents at various venues, Costello said. “The athletes are in really good shape, but there are always going to be issues with prosthetics and fittings,” she said. For example, physical exertion can cause stumps to swell.

“If they get any kind of injury, we’re ready to help take care of them,” she said.

Costello said many of the participants arrived a few weeks ahead of the June 1-9 competition in an effort to become accustomed to the high elevation.

“These athletes are tough, but it can take up to six months to fully acclimate,” she said. “All of us who move here from sea level, we know how challenging the altitude can be on physical performance.”

Challenging? No doubt these competitors understand what “challenging” means. The games were established in 2010 to aid in the recovery of wounded, ill, and injured service members by introducing them to adaptive sports. Events include archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball. Three new sports have been added this year: indoor rowing, powerlifting, and time-trial cycling.

Approximately 300 athletes are competing from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, U.S. Special Operations Command, U.K. Armed Forces, Australian Defence Force, and Canadian Armed Forces.

Army 1st Sgt. Jay Collins is competing in his first games as a member of the SOCOM team. Collins, now at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was a Green Beret medic with the 7th Special Forces Medical Group in Afghanistan in 2007 when he suffered injuries that ultimately led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee in 2014.

Collins will be competing in several individual running races as well as the 4x100 relay, cycling, rowing, and powerlifting. “And I think I’m also on the seated volleyball team,” he said. “I’m a chronic overachiever, right?”

Collins said he plans to power through despite issues with his stump and chronic back pain.

“I’ve got a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old at home,” he said. “I want to show them, ‘Hey, look, your dad’s missing his leg, and his back’s all busted up, and he’s got a gunshot hole in his arm – and he’s still out there doing this.’”

Collins also said he wants to be an advocate for wounded warriors and adaptive sports. “After I was injured, I never thought I’d be able to run again or be physically active. But adaptive sports are redefining the art of possible. There are no limitations.”

About 60 medical professionals in the Military Health System have volunteered to work at the games, Costello said. They’re coming from as close as Peterson Air Force Base and Fort Carson in Colorado, and as far away as Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

During the games, Costello will be keeping track of the rotating medical volunteers – “making sure they know where to go and what to do” – and ensuring they have access to the pharmacy, radiology, and any other requirements.

“The most fun piece of planning has been seeing how eager everybody is to help,” Costello said. “So many of our medical personnel want to help support the athletes. It’s just been great to see.”

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