Meet Israel del Toro. He is in his early 40s, a Special Forces officer who has done tours of duty in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. After being grievously wounded in his last tour in Afghanistan, he has undergone dozens of operations to restore his face, hands and legs. He was a gold medal winner in this week’s Warrior Games cycling event in Chicago. He told me that he lived through all of the pain in order to see his son graduate from college (I met the son as well, about to enter high school). He now trains cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, on his way to his 20th year in service of his country. So humble, modest and cheerful, he joked that he did not want to go on to the Invictus Games this year. “All they want to do is see me sweat on TV,” he said, as he mopped his brow and apologized for sweating up my shirt as I embraced him to thank him for his contribution to our country.
Through the mission of the Warrior Games, injuries sustained by the soldiers are treated by “adaptive sports and reconditioning activities to overcome the challenges associated with their new condition…this enables healing through greater self-esteem, lower stress, decreased dependence on pain medication, pursuit of higher education and increased independence.” As Army team member, Staff Sgt. Altermese L. Kendrick, said, “Stay calm, heal, and keep it moving. The pace may change but forward is the only direction.”
The first of the Paralympic sports was wheelchair basketball, started by injured WWII veterans in 1945. Ultimately, the Paralympics were held in 1960 after the Olympic Games in Rome. The U.S. Olympic Committee began the Warrior Games in 2010 to speed the rehabilitation of injured service men and women. They compete in sports ranging from cycling, swimming and seated volleyball to wheelchair basketball and track and field. Teams are organized by branch of the military, including Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Special Forces and Coast Guard, plus UK Armed Forces and Australian Armed Forces. The Department of Defense assumed responsibility for the Games in 2015.
As I walked through the parking lot south of Soldier Field, home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, I saw hundreds of uniformed military, family members and Chicagoans there to cheer on the finishers of the cycling race. I was then asked to present the bronze medal to a female Air Force veteran. I remembered the words of my late father, whose birthday would have been during this week: “I learned more from my five years in the military than in all of the rest of my life.”
Edelman and United Entertainment Group have worked tirelessly in our Chicago and Washington offices to make this first Warrior Games held outside of a U.S. Olympic Committee training facility or military base a success. The opening ceremony drew over 20,000 spectators, who heard Jon Stewart, Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton perform. I thank each of you Edelman and UEG team members for your work over the holiday weekend and your commitment to those who have sacrificed so much to protect our nation — with special thanks to my brother John, who has led our veteran initiatives including the Veteran Well Being survey and the Change Direction campaign, for persuading the Defense Department to allow us to work on this assignment. I am inspired by the words of Team Marine Corps member Staff Sergeant Dalielle N. Pothoof: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.