Wounded warrior coaches help athletes advance in their recovery

  • Published
  • By Richard Salomon
  • Air Force’s Personnel Center Public Affairs
Many service members suffer battle scars, seen and unseen. For many of these wounded, ill or injured warriors, adaptive sports programs give them the opportunity to heal, regain confidence, celebrate their efforts and move forward in their recovery.

From Sept. 23-30, 2017 more than 550 wounded service members from 17 nations are competing in Toronto, Canada, for the 2017 Invictus Games. About 85 wounded warriors represent Team USA with about 20 of those making up Team Air Force.

Behind every athlete is an inspiring story of courage, and behind every athlete is a committed coach providing encouragement, training expertise and logistics support.

Aaron Moffett, who has a doctorate in kinesiology, serves as the Team USA coach and associate head coach for the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program.

“The Invictus Games and other competitions give our wounded warriors the opportunity to show that they are not defined by their wounds, and that they can go on to live productive and fulfilling lives,” he said. “Regardless of what countries they serve, they all have the same common bond of service and resilience.”

Adaptive sports are sports played by people with disabilities and are modified to meet their mental and physical impairments.

In archery, for example, competitors like Chris Cochrane, a hemiplegic who has some paralysis on one side, holds the bow and then pulls the string back using a mouth tab.

“We bring in coaches from all the sports on a temporary basis to provide one-on-one instruction,” said Moffett, “with many of them being national and international level coaches.”

Moffett says there are different classification numbers for each injury and for the abilities required for each sport.

“For example, an arm amputee is not impaired as much in running as that athlete would be in swimming,” he said. “Typically, the lower the classification number, the greater the impact the physical impairment has on the sport.”

The classification system is designed to create a level playing field and, to a certain extent, is similar to grouping athletes by age, gender or height.

With team members located around the country, the wounded warrior coaches do much of their coaching by phone, e-mail, Facebook and Team App, an application platform that allows the coaches and athletes to send news, manage workouts and coordinate training regimens.

Ever since Moffett first helped a young deaf boy about 20 years ago gain confidence in the pool, the 40-year-old Delaware native has had a passion for helping those less fortunate, maximize their abilities. Over the years, he has coached athletes with disabilities from the youth through adults levels.

“Being involved with the competitions and the lives of these wounded warriors continues to be a very rewarding journey for me,” Moffett said. “At the starting line, they’re competitors, but after the event is over, they’re friends and allies, encouraging each other. It’s really cool to see. It’s really all about helping the wounded warriors in their recovery and using sports in that recovery.”

The Air Force Wounded Warrior program hosts six CARE events a year in six different U.S. regions. CARE events feature information and education on caregiver support, adaptive and rehabilitative sports, recovering Airmen mentorship and employment and career readiness. The program also hosts the Air Force Wounded Warrior Trials and supports the Defense Department Warrior Games.

The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program is administered by the Air Force’s Personnel Center and supports more than 6,300 wounded warriors. For more information on the Air Force Wounded Warrior and other personnel-related programs, visit www.afpc.af.mil.