Cancer survivor to compete in Warrior Games

  • Published
  • By Bekah Clark
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
It's been two years and three months since Senior Master Sgt. Michael Sanders overcame an aggressive form of cancer.

Despite undergoing extensive treatment and recovery efforts, Sergeant Sanders has made sure to keep fitness a part of his lifestyle, achieving perfect scores on physical training tests, running races, and participating in fitness programs since his recovery began in January 2008, earning him not only one, but two distinct honors.

On March 26, Sergeant Sanders, Air Force Network Integration Center, was selected as one of only 20 athletes who will represent the Air Force at the Department of Defense's first-ever Warrior Games May 10 through 14 in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was also named Scott Air Force Base Athlete of the Year.

Sergeant Sanders initially applied to be a coach for the Warrior Games, a sports competition hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee, for wounded, ill or injured warriors, but was chosen as an athlete instead. He'll compete in the 1,500-meter run event and may also compete in the Ultimate Warrior Challenge, an event made up of a 50-meter swim, a 100-meter sprint and 1500-meter run, as well as shooting an air rifle and throwing shot put.

"It's a great opportunity for wounded, ill or injured Airmen to come out and compete in events that many had great skill in before, as well as inspire and encourage other people and show that you can overcome challenges," Sergeant Sanders said.

"It is extremely humbling to know of all the athletes on the base that God has bestowed this honor on me," the sergeant said. "He has allowed me to work with so many people when it comes to fitness that I am forever grateful. There are so many people who are a part of this award especially at the (618th Tanker Airlift Control Center), and around the world, who helped motivate and encourage me to get back out there. I hope my journey encourages others as well."

His faith and setting goals have allowed him to persevere in his post-cancer physical conditioning, Sergeant Sanders said

"It was difficult to be on the couch or on the bed every day, with the tons of emotions you go through, wondering if you're going to live or not, so you try to set sights out," he said. "At first, they're little goals because the first step is to get out and run just a little bit and then run a little bit more. For someone who was used to running 30 to 45 miles per week, and starting back at a quarter-mile run, I thought I was never going to get back to where I was, but God's grace is abundant, and I'm grateful that He still allows me to take part in that passion that I had."

Sergeant Sanders also gave credit to his help on the ground, his fitness wingmen, for his success.

"Having wingmen who are into fitness and will rally around and coach you along and motivate you helps tremendously," he said.

His attitude and willingness to share his story contributes to his success as well.

"Mike has an outstanding sense of humor and can often be found smiling," said Bernie Honsberger, Sergeant Sanders' supervisor. "He never misses an opportunity to pass on life's lessons he has learned by telling his story to high school students, teenagers in trouble, and adults alike."

Sergeant Sanders has been running for more than 30 years and cycles as well. His current fitness routine includes working out four to five times a week with his co-workers as well as on his own, and incorporates running and strength training. Sergeant Sanders' next immediate goal is to give his best in the Warrior Games, and maybe another half marathon this fall.

Despite the challenges, "it doesn't matter how tough it is, because it's a blessing to still be alive," he said.