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Marine Corps Trials reveal wounded warriors' capabilities

Swimmers take their marks for the 50 meters race during the 2014 Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on March 12, 2014.

When Marine Staff Sgt. Dorman Bilbrey was first encouraged last year to participate in the Marine Corps Trials, he figured swimming would be his sport.

“I’ve always liked swimming, so I was definitely down on the swimming part,” Bilbrey said.

But, he wasn’t so sure about how far he could swim.

“When I started thinking about doing it, I thought I would sign up to do the 50-meter race. They had 50-meter and 100-meter races, but I thought there was no way I could swim 100 meters,” he said.

Then, he and the other Marine Corps Trials athletes got in the water and started swimming. Before he knew it, Bilbrey said, he had actually covered the 100-meter distance.

“The coaches were like, ‘Hey! Look at what you all did. You all just swam 100 meters,’” he said. “See, it’s not about what you think your limitations are. It’s about what you can do when you try.”

The Marine Corps Trials event, now in its fourth year, is an eight-sport, Paralympic-style invitational competition. It was held March 4 through Wednesday at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, Calif.

The athletes invited to compete are wounded, ill and injured Marines and international wounded warriors. They are organized into four teams: Wounded Warrior Battalion-West, Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, Marine Veterans and International Allies.

Joshua native Bilbrey competed in the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East. He is stationed now with the WWB-East in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The focus for the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East is to care for wounded, ill and injured Marines and their families as they recover from their injuries or illness and transition to civilian life.

Bilbrey doesn’t like to talk about what happened to him in Afghanistan, but he did say his injury was not physical.

He came back from Afghanistan in 2011, but was having trouble adjusting — until it was suggested he join the Wounded Warrior program. Now, he said, he is recovering and is getting ready to become a civilian once again.

The idea behind the Marine Corps Trials is to give wounded, ill or injured Marines the chance to “further the rehabilitation of their minds, bodies and spirits through competition and camaraderie,” according to the Marine Corps website.

According to the website, “For some, the Trials are a milestone in their personal athletic goals. For others, it is an opportunity to experience new activities and connect with their fellow wounded warriors. For all the participants, the Trials are a chance to come together and focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.”

And that, Bilbrey said, is the key.

This is his second year to compete at the Marine Corps Trials. But, since he got started late in preparing last year for his first trip, he said he had been looking forward to doing better this time out since he has had more time to train.

Bilbrey said that representatives from the U.S. Paralympic Team were at the trials, looking for prospective team members. And the coaches for the athletes at the Trials, he said, would be choosing “maybe about 50” of the 300 athletes competing at Camp Pendleton to go to another competition in Colorado.

Although he would love the chance to go to the Colorado event — or even better, to make the U.S. Paralympic Team — just making it to the Trials in Camp Pendleton is a victory, he said.

“It’s about what you think your limitations are, and then realizing you can go so much further,” Bilbrey said. “These coaches, they really show you that you can do better than you ever thought you could. You want to do better and you work harder, go farther.

“You really surprise yourself out here. That’s what it’s all about.”
 

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