Veterans Michael Clarke and Warren Guse-Ware are mates who were in Afghanistan together in 2010 when they suffered life-threatening injuries in a blast from an improvised explosive device.
Michael was fortunate not to have had his legs amputated and to this day has ongoing pain. Warren received extensive injuries, including damage to his leg and spine, facial fractures and a traumatic brain injury. He is still undergoing dental and facial reconstructive surgery. Both men have experienced posttraumatic stress disorder.
Since returning home to Australia, both have been through a long and difficult journey of rehabilitation – physically and psychologically.
By 2014, despite extensive rehabilitation, they still found it difficult to return to sport or vigorous training, things that these formerly fit, competitive men enjoyed before they were injured.
To help motivate them and assist their return to better fitness, DVA supported Michael and Warren to attend the United States Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Trials, in March 2014. The trials, which are held each year at Camp Pendleton in California, are a paralympic-style invitational event comprising two teams – a team of Marine Corps veterans from the US and a team of veterans from 10 other countries who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The trials help to further the rehabilitation of minds, bodies and spirits through intensive training, competition and camaraderie. They are an opportunity for participants to connect with fellow wounded warriors and focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.
All participants compete in three sports. Michael and Warren elected to compete in swimming, cycling and shooting, and world-class coaches helped them to prepare.
Michael took home silver in the 50 metre and 100 metre freestyle swimming, and gold in the 50 metre backstroke. Both Warren and Michael were selected to swim for the Allies in the marquee final event, the freestyle relay, for which their team won gold.
The chance to connect with others facing the same adversity helped them to appreciate the universal nature of the issues they and others experience as military members who have an injury, illness or acquired disability.
‘When you are by yourself, it is easy to get down,’ Warren said. ‘Seeing some of these guys (with multiple amputations), the trials make you realise … there’s always someone worse off.’
‘We pushed each other … to have a go,’ Michael said. ‘We helped each other to get up in the morning ... I wanted to make an effort as I was representing my country.’
In addition to taking home medals, the veterans came away with improved motivation, fitness and confidence. Having challenged and surpassed their perceived physical and psychological limits, they intend to keep up their physical activity and maintain and further develop their fitness.