BREMERTON, Washington –
Three hundred Wounded Warrior-athletes gather annually to compete in the Department of Defense Warrior Games, and those 300 athletes are supported by more than 1,500 volunteers filling 370 positions including coaches, judges, timekeepers and crowd control.
Adrienne Rank, a Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility human resources staffing and recruitment specialist, knows first-hand the amount of work that goes into filling those roles and the satisfaction that comes with it. She is an active supporter, coach and volunteer.
“The electricity, I just can’t explain the vibe,” she said.
Rank herself is a Wounded Warrior, having served in the Air Force for 17 years before being medically retired due to cancer.
“All of my adult life was spent in the Air Force. I thought, “‘Who am I without that uniform?’”
From Wounded Warrior to coach
When she transferred to the Air Force Academy in 2012, her recovery care coordinator encouraged her to explore coaching.
Rank had played volleyball for 24 years, so taking on the coaching challenge for the 2013 Warrior Games seemed in line with her interests and capabilities at the time.
Multiple surgeries resulted in Rank having mobility issues with one arm, to the point that her team affectionately nicknamed her “T-Rex.” Near the end of the games that year, Rank was scheduled for yet another surgery. She purchased a large plastic tyrannosaurus rex, put it on the bench and told the team to keep it on the bench during the game she was going to miss as a reminder that she’d be there in spirit. When the team returned T-Rex, it was covered with their signatures.
“The camaraderie is amazing,” Rank explained.
The impact of the games touched Rank in many ways. She once spotted a former airman with whom she served in 1998, a man who was outgoing when they served together but who had become withdrawn and wouldn’t engage with others. He suffered from severe PTSD from seeing a friend shot through the neck in Fallujah, Iraq.
“I couldn’t believe this was the same guy I knew in 1998,” Rank said.
By the end of the Warrior Games, he was a changed man.
Rank also noted that her friend’s experience wasn’t unusual.
“Some participants are suicidal, on the edge,” Rank explains. She said the games give participants the “absolute joy of competing not just for themselves but for their service.”
“The games are such a strong bonding experience,” she continues. “Everyone went through hard times together, and they just get it. The medals (from the competition) are just a bonus.”
An important realization
Out of all her memorable moments with the games, it was a conversation she had with her daughters that stands out the most.
Her eight-year-old spotted a Marine at the games who had no legs and only one arm with parts of it missing. Her daughter pointed out that the Marine had no legs but he was happy. It gave Rank the opportunity to explain that life isn’t about what you don’t have but what you do have.
She encouraged her two daughters to look at the athletes and understand what they were really seeing.
“We need to be thankful that we live here,” she told her daughters. “This is the cost of freedom.”