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Soldier proves his mettle

Corporal medals at Warrior Games

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POSTED: May 21, 2010 10:42 a.m.
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Cpl. Ryan Shurtleff, back far left, competes in a gold medal round of sitting volleyball. The Army team received a silver medal. The Marines took home the gold.

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Fort Stewart soldier Cpl. Ryan Shurtleff brought home one silver and a bronze medal from the inaugural Warrior Games held May 10-14 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Shurtleff was wounded by an IED in Iraq and is assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion here.
Shurtleff, 25, took the bronze in a shooting event. His win was no small feat, according to Warrior Transition Unit Cadre member Sgt. 1st Class Roderick White. White said Shurtleff is right handed, but used his left hand to shoot after injuring his right soldier just one month before the competition.
“For him to convert over like that was really amazing,” White said.
Shurtleff laughingly admitted he took a cigarette break prior to his bronze medal win. His opponents were too “quiet” and he needed a break from solitude.
“I’m a talk, talk, go, go kind of person,” he said.
The young corporal also received a silver medal in sitting volleyball. He said he met his team mates, “when I got there.” 
Shurtleff said competing in the games “was awesome” and he intends to qualify for the paralympic-style competition again next year. More than 200 disabled active duty service men and women, and veterans, from all branches of the military competed in the games.
Two other WTB soldiers, Spc. Christopher Lowe, 24, and Staff Sgt. Phillip Fentiman, 45, also represented Fort Stewart at the games.
Lowe, who was not available for comment, placed seventh in shooting. Fentiman placed fourth in swimming.
“I just missed the bronze medal in both (swim) events,” Fentiman said. He competed in the 50- and 100-meter events.
“I was so proud of Sgt. Fentiman for him to do so well with his age and (after) open heart surgery,” White said. Fentiman said most of the athletes he competed against were in their 20s.
White said he believes Fentiman would have won a medal if he’d had more time to train for the games. Fentiman said he hopes to qualify for the games next year. Competing in the Warrior Games was a good experience and helped open some doors for him, he said.
“I’ve considered going back to school for a bachelors degree to become a school teacher,” Fentiman said. He has taught swimming in the past and is currently helping another soldier improve in swimming.
White said he and Fort Stewart’s athletes were inspired by the celebrity athletes they met and other military athletes with severe physical challenges who competed.
“Roger Staubach lit the torch in the opening ceremony,” the WTU Cadre member said. “He’s so down to earth. I got a chance to talk to him and thank him for his (past) games.”
Staubach, a Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Fame former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict.
“Rocky Bleier spoke at the closing ceremony,” Shurtleff said.
Bleier, a former NFL halfback with the Pittsburgh Steelers, also served in Vietnam. Bleier was wounded in the leg by a grenade and was told he would never play football again. Undaunted, he eventually returned to the sport.
White said the wounded warriors who competed in wheelchair volleyball and basketball played fiercely on the court.
“Ninety percent of them had no legs or one leg,” he said. “Their spirits were so high.”
Shurtleff said Warrior Games organizers told athletes they hope to include athletes and teams from other countries next year.
“They want to make it more international like the Olympics,” he said.
Winn Army Community Hospital Public Affairs Chief Mindy Anderson said the idea for the Warrior Games sprang from a conversation U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gary H. Cheek had with Ride to Recovery’s Founder John Wordin and a USO representative after completing a 50-mile bike ride last spring. Cheek is the army’s assistant surgeon general for warrior care and transition.
Anderson said the general experienced a sense of accomplishment from the ride and realized disabled service members would get the same mental and physical benefit from athletic competition.


 

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