International spirit, veterans also competing at Tampa’s Warrior Games
By DIVYA KUMAR | Tampa Bay Times | Published: June 29, 2019
TAMPA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Daryl Sagar is an example of just how hard the athletes compete at the Warrior Games. He flipped his wheelchair over Monday while playing basketball at the Tampa Convention Center and suffered a concussion.
His friends were all watching on Facebook Live when it happened — nearly 3,000 miles away, in Edmonton, the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta.
That's because Sagar is also an example of another kind of athlete at the Warrior Games: He is one of 96 international competitors representing the military from Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Sagar is competing with Team Canada and spent 24 years serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. The sergeant and medic injured his spinal cord while serving in Afghanistan in 2008.
But when his wheelchair flipped over, nationality didn't matter. He blacked out briefly, then regained consciousness and found all of his fellow athletes had rushed to his side and called for help.
That, he said, is what the Warrior Games is all about.
"We all have different experiences, but our story is the same," Sagar said. "We're all fighting the same monkeys and demons, trying to get through what we're trying to get through."
Sagar came to Tampa to compete in archery, wheelchair basketball and shooting (using air pistols and rifles). After his injury and multiple surgeries, he said it meant a lot to him and his wife that they were embraced by a community of people who have undergone a similar experience.
"It's an amazing journey to walk in and be accepted by a family of international athletes," he said.
Ryan Roberts, 34, who served in the Australian Army and participated in track, field, rowing and wheelchair rugby, said hanging out with athletes and veterans from other countries and rooting them on has been the highlight of his experience.
"Even though it's a competitive environment," Robert said, "the camaraderie has been incredible."
His teammate on Team Australia, Darren Peters, said he was surprised by the warm reception the athletes have received in the Tampa Bay area. His first night out, he said, a couple sent a bucket of beer to his table and a stranger paid for their tab.
"That never happens at home," said Peters, 50.
Roberts said the Warrior Games gives wounded veterans something to focus their energies on.
"It's really important to work toward something and have a definitive end point, to set a goal for yourself and achieve something, especially if you're struggling," he said. "It helps develop that hunger for more success, in sporting or in life."
Though most of the athletes have been on a tight schedule, Roberts said he has enjoyed exploring downtown Tampa. Peters said he enjoyed the view while driving along picturesque Bayshore Boulevard.
Mark Makepeace, the captain of Team Canada's wheelchair basketball team, said he has heard quite a few good-natured jokes about Canadians whenever the team has gone out wearing their team apparel. But his teammates have also felt welcomed in the U.S., and were touched by a new American flag mural honoring veterans along the Riverwalk.
"It brings into perspective why we're all here," he said.
Sagar has had to rest since his concussion, and has watched his teammates from the sidelines. Still, the Warrior Games has motivated him to continue his own journey as an athlete.
He wishes more of his fellow Canadian military veterans could experience the same feeling:
"We don't have the word quit in us if we still got a pulse and are still breathing."
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U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Kenneth Guinn, Team Air Force, puts up a contested shot during the 2019 DoD Warrior Games wheelchair basketball gold medal game in the Tampa Convention Center, June 28, 2019.
VITO T. BRYANT/U.S. ARMY