This is the second story in a four-part series featuring two athletes who have overcome traumatic brain injury (TBI) or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to compete at the 2015 Warrior Games.
Air Force Master Sgt. Daniel Waugh and Marine Sgt. Clayton McDaniel arrived at the 2015 Warrior Games in Quantico, Virginia, not knowing what to expect. Facing a competition that includes the best of the best from the Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army and Special Operations Command, and in conditions much different than where they trained, Waugh and McDaniel knew resilience would play a large part in the games.
Adapting to conditions
After a practice session on Thursday it was clear that the Warrior Games setting was different than the trials leading up to it -- bigger crowds, more noise and distractions.
Waugh and McDaniel, both diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have first-hand experience adapting to unusual situations. Being resilient paid off for the two athletes, who usually train outdoors, when they learned how different the competition conditions were. At Quantico, archery was in a tent with artificial lighting and a carpet-covered wood floor. According to McDaniel, the use of artificial light, five different shades of it, and different flooring made it a challenge to set up each shot.
“The floor is different,” Waugh said. “Anytime anyone walks on the floor you feel the vibrations. If anyone gets within 30-40 feet of you, you can actually feel yourself going up and down. In the first few rounds people were stomping and that kind of stuff – people were shooting horribly.”
The prelims for archery took all morning as shooters tried to qualify for the eight spots in the final round. The competitors had to maintain focus for 10 rounds of scoring during a 4 ½ hour stretch.
“It’s not only physically challenging, but it is mentally challenging,” McDaniel said. “You have to think about your shot process every time.”
Facing fierce competition
McDaniel and Waugh are both well trained and successful at archery, but the competition at this year’s Warrior Games was tough.
Neither athlete was quick to say he had a great preliminary round. With the increased level of competition, they weren’t even sure they would qualify for the finals. McDaniel did, but even after scoring an arrow-splitting ”Robin Hood” shot, Waugh came up short.
“There are a lot of guys who really know what they are doing,” McDaniel said. “They are definitely laying it down and setting the standard pretty high to even qualify.”
Dan Waugh celebrates his shots. Photo by Shawn Sprayberry, Air Force Wounded Warrior Program
Connecting with comrades
Living with injuries, such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI), while training for the Warrior Games can be an added challenge for many service members. However, to many athletes, the reward of being around those who have gone through similar struggles is worth more than any medal.
“Being able to shoot next to some of these fine gentlemen, no matter which branch you serve, really humbles you a lot,” McDaniel said while standing next to Waugh waiting to find out who would make the final round.
Waugh shot between a woman from the British Armed Forces team who was in a wheelchair and McDaniel.
“It was kind of cool to just talk,” Waugh said. ”It was comfortable. There was not a lot of rivalry going on. It was like we were out there just having a good time.”
Waugh and McDaniel will be back in action on Friday for the shooting competition. For these two veterans, more competition means more time with new friends, not a race to see who the better shot is.