The All-Marine Warrior Games sitting volleyball team focused on playing as a one, continuing to learn each other's strengths, Apr. 28, at the post fitness center as they prepare for the inaugural Warrior Games, next week.
Sitting volleyball is one of the few sports in the Warrior Games largely dependent on teamwork and cohesiveness. The game is played with each team sitting on the ground, moving on the court with only their upper bodies.
All-Marine Warrior Games sitting volleyball coach U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sam Tickle, said this event is unique because it's one of the only sports featuring athletes with a variety of disabilities working together.
Tickle, a 34-year-old from New London Pa., played volleyball for three years as a college student at the University of South Carolina and coached various leagues throughout his career in the U.S. Navy. He is currently assigned to Commander Strike Force Training, Pacific, at North Island, Calif.
"The key to sitting volleyball is speed," Tickle said "But it's something that takes a lot of learning."
Sitting volleyball in the Warrior Games features five players per side. Each player must maintain contact with the ground while blocking serves are some of the differences between sitting and conventional volleyball. While all the players are medically injured in one form or another, more than a quarter of the team are amputees.
Tickle said maintaining ground contact is one of the largest obstacles in sitting volleyball. Athletes who've retained their walking ability have it the hardest because the instinct to go for the ball, instead of setting up and then hitting the ball, he said.
Those difficulties really distinguish sitting volleyball as a team sport, Tickle said. Not only do they have to overcome their own physical barriers, but they have to overcome the teams to play as one and succeed.
Tickle said the Air Force sitting volleyball team might give the Marine team a challenge, he's not too worried about the other competitors getting in their way for winning gold medals.
"One advantage we really have going for us is we have a lot of big guys with huge arms," he said. "I have no doubt that we'll have a team together running offense and ready to win."
Corporal Ray Hennagir, a 21-year-old from Deptford N.J., and athlete with the All-Marine Warrior Games Team, said sitting volleyball was one of the few sports he immediately liked when he tried it. "It's a great outlet to come out here and get that competitive experience," he said. "I'm trying to get gold though, so I'm practicing to win here."
Hennagir lost both legs and four fingers after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Iraq during 2007.
Although winning is one of the end states, the training and camaraderie developed is a win in itself for these athletes, Tickle added. "This is an excellent tool in their recovery," he said. "It really has blown me away seeing these guys give it their all."
The volleyball team will be practicing throughout the week until their first competition beginning at 4 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, May 11, 2010 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. For more information, follow the All-Marine Warrior Games Team on the 'Warrior Games' Facebook fan page.