Soldiers share stories of 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games
October 4, 2016
WASHINGTON — When Army Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher crossed the finish line of the pentathlon at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, his brother tossed him a U.S. flag.
Schrimsher said the flag had hung in his father’s Roswell, New Mexico office since Sept. 11, 2001. When his brother Lucas gave him the flag after the competition, their father, Keith, had been dead just slightly more than a year.
Nathan Schrimsher, 24, grabbed the flag and carried it around the stadium – the setting of the pentathlon, a three-day competition that includes fencing, swimming, jumping, shooting and a long-distance run.
“He loved the sport, and he loved what we were doing, so it was really hard going to the games and not being able to have him there,” Schrimsher said of his father. “I had that flag and carried it, so I’m like carrying my dad and our country. It was just an incredible experience. It was an amazing, overwhelming feeling.”
At the Pentagon on Monday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter hosted active-duty servicemembers who participated in the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. Sixteen servicemembers competed in this year’s Olympics, and four competed in the Paralympics. They brought home four medals.
Four of them, including Schrimsher, told stories of their experiences Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington.
Schrimsher, Spc. Paul Chelimo, Staff Sgt. Michael Lukow are all part of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, a military detachment in which the Army trains soldiers full time for the Pan American Games, World Championships and Olympics and Paralympics. Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller went to the Olympics as part of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.The group shared some stories Tuesday from Rio – from Eller celebrating a bronze medal in shooting to the moment Chelimo was briefly stripped of his silver medal.
Reclaiming silver Chelimo, an Army water treatment specialist, was born in Iten, Kenya. He discovered his talent for running when he was young, he said, and his brothers could never catch him during games of “tag.”
“They would run after me, but they’d never catch me,” the 26-year-old said. “They used to say, ‘There’s something extraordinary here, you know?’ ”
He came to the United States in 2010 and enlisted in the Army in 2014.
In Rio, his first Olympics, Chelimo finished the men’s 5000-meter run with a personal best time of 13.03.90, six microseconds behind first-place finisher Mo Farah of Britain.
On Tuesday, Chelimo wore the silver medal that was taken from him for about an hour after a replay showed Chelimo take a step out of bounds. With further review, judges determined the step had no effect on the race. He got the medal back.
“It was really tough for me because it had been sweat, toil and tears,” Chelimo asid. “It’s really tough when you get your time, you have your moment, and it’s snatched away from you.”
Once reinstated, the silver was the United States’ first medal in the race since 1964. Now, Chelimo is preparing to win the gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I still have something in me, I still have a fire in me because I didn’t get the gold,” he said.
Hopes to return Lukow and Eller said they also hope to return to the Olympics in 2020 – Lukow to the Paralympics to earn his first medal and Eller to his sixth Olympic Games.
Lukow, 30, was injured in Baghdad in January 2008 in an explosion. He simultaneously learned archery and how to walk on a right-leg prosthetic.
He improved his walking by going back and forth to retrieve arrows.
“About a month out of the hospital, an old Vietnam vet came by the rehab center and said, ‘I want to teach you archery’,” Lukow said. “I’m high on medication, so I said, ‘Why not?’ And then I got pretty good at it.”
In Rio, Lukow went out in the first round.
“I look forward to getting ready for Tokyo 2020,” he said. “Rio didn’t quite go as well as I had hoped.”
Eller, 34, won gold in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and has earned medals in the Pan American Games and national and world championships.
“I’d really like to have another medal on the wall,” he said.
Schrimsher also has hopes of returning.
“We’re soldiers first and athletes second,” Schrimsher said of the group. “What the Army taught us – resiliency, mental toughness – it goes hand in hand with being a soldier and an athlete.”
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