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Valor Games: Service Men and Women Showcase Strength

By Casey Cora | August 14, 2013 7:51am
 Armour Square Park plays host to annual competition for active duty and military veterans.
Valor Games
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ARMOUR SQUARE — A 2007 suicide bomber's explosion in Kirkuk, Iraq killed at least 13 people, injured more than 100 people.

It also sent U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Damian Orslene "into a despair you wouldn't believe."

He said the blast, engineered by a suicide bomber who drove a bomb into a police station, left him with a badly damaged hip, shoulder injuries and a traumatic brain injury.

That was the physical toll.

A case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder left Orslene, a longtime triathlete now retired from military service, "on the edge of a bed and wanting to kill myself."

"But sports saved my life," he said, shortly after recently heaving a shot put across a field at Armour Square Park.

Orlsene, 49, of Pensacola, Fla.. is one of about 200 participants competing in the Valor Games, an annual competition that has injured active duty and retired military personnel competing in events like archery, discus, shot put, power lifting and indoor rowing.

The games kicked off at Soldier Field on Monday with an opening ceremony and the Illinois Warrior Summit, which helps arrange opportunities for health care screenings, job counseling and higher education enrollment for veterans.

Tuesday's events were less about pageantry and more about participation. That's what brought Duke Roscoe to the archery field.

Roscoe, 54, is a burley former Marine from Atlanta who suffered a spinal cord injury playing tackle football. He said the fallout from the injury "can get dark" — there's the rehabilitation, limited mobility and navigating the paperwork for retirement benefits from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

He recently hooked up with a national group called Challenged Athletes Foundation, which picked up the tab for his travels to Chicago and supplied him with archery equipment.

From his wheelchair, Roscoe took careful aim and sent arrow after arrow toward a target. Some missed the mark; others didn't. But none of that seemed to matter.

"Man, I love it," he said.

Scott Myers is the executive director of World Sport Chicago, the group behind Valor Games. The competition, now in its third year, is hosted with the help of with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Paralympics and the Chicago Park District, plus hundreds of volunteers from across the city.

Myers said the military background of the participants showed they've already "tried to be a part of something bigger.

"And if they're injured, then that's gone. So this is a big part of helping them re-engage," he said.

It's a model that's apparently gaining traction across the country. There are three separate Valor Games pilot programs taking place this year in North Carolina, California and Texas.

By next year, there will be a network of nationwide programs, Myers said.

The games continue Wednesday at Armour Square Park with power lifting and indoor rowing.