UCCS alumnus helps train athletes for Warrior Games

Sept. 29, 2014

Brandon Applehans
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Overcoming obstacles is one thing. It’s quite another to deal with a grueling injury every day and then compete at the highest level.

UCCS and Air Force alumnus John Zavada is a wheelchair track coach for the 2014 games. While at UCCS, Zavada majored in health and wellness/ health programming and evaluation.

The wounded veterans must learn to trust their leader if they hope to be able to play well at the games, something Zavada knows he must address.

“I have deployed many times in my 22-year career,” Zavada said. “So when I let the warrior athletes know where I’ve been and what I did we have this commonality even though we have done different things in the military.”

The overall goal of the games, Sept. 28 through Oct. 4 in Colorado Springs, is to get wounded warriors involved in sports again. After a serious tragedy, athletes can feel as if their time playing sports is no longer possible. The Warrior Games aims to break that mentality.

“The Warrior Games brings a ton of excitement in the way of teamwork and being able to see how far I can push myself and others around me,” Matt Spang, a double below the knee amputee, said.

For a couple of weeks, athletes are able to put aside their problems and form solidarity between their teammates. The injuries these athletes share with other veterans creates a bond that lasts throughout their lives.

Zavada emphasized how the Warrior Games change these wounded veterans into new people.

“There once was an athlete who was having such a hard time with his injury,” Zavada said. “After a year of not seeing him, I walk into the gym at his second Warrior Games and he came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. He was a different person after those first games.”

Zavada is entering his 16th season coaching wheelchair track. Trainign for the event includes wheelchair track pushing techniques, speed training and track strategies. There are a total of six events in the games, including sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and archery.

“I think the best part about my job would have to be watching a novice athlete in wheelchair track on day one, and seeing them progress by the end of the very first practice,” Zavada said.

“They begin to get the techniques and start gaining confidence and get faster and faster. The inhibitions begin to melt away and they feel that competitive edge building inside themselves again.”

“The motto I most live by is work hard, play hard,” Spang said. “You only achieve what you believe.” Outside of sport, athletes can take on obstacles that never would have been challenged prior to competing.

“We want them to play again with their families and friends. If they show natural ability in these adaptive sports they can move on to national level competitions,” Zavada said.