Redmond “Red” Ramos, a burly and bearded Navy corpsman, stepped on an IED while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. The explosion ripped through his flesh, causing him to lose his left leg. But the Southern California resident says he felt lucky. He humorously tattooed his right calf  “I’m with Stumpy” and compared his injury to a “paper cut.” In Ramos’s mind, his disability is minor. It hasn’t prevented him from being physically active. In fact, he says that it’s made him better. Within seven months of his injury, Ramos won five medals at the Warrior Games, a competition for wounded soldiers, using sports “to destroy the negative stigma associated with injury,” he says.
Last week, Ramos competed with 11 other veterans in the inaugural Triumph Games, a weeklong series of competitions in New York City, participating in a triathalon and obstacle course at LeFrak Center Lakeside in Brooklyn, a videogame event livestreamed at the Times Square Arts Center and a motorsports race upstate. The winner will be revealed on Oct. 17 by former Congressman Patrick Murphy and Al Roker, the Today Show’s weatherman, on NBC Sports Network.
The “Terrific 12” were welcomed to the Big Apple at an opening ceremony just blocks away from One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. Notables — including Loree Sutton, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, and Damien Sandow, a WWE professional wrestler who goes by the stage name Macho Mandow — praised the warriors for their inspiring stories. The veteran-athletes proved that the well-worn narrative of former service members who are traumatized, crippled, homeless and helpless isn’t necessarily true, reiterating that veterans aren’t victims.
“This is a unique opportunity to showcase what’s great about our American veterans: their resiliency, their competitiveness, their drive and work ethic, and frankly their camaraderie,” Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, tells NationSwell in an interview. It’s difficult for the average American to comprehend “the incredible sacrifice that our military and their family members go through,” adds Murphy, now a lawyer in Pennsylvania. “The Triumph Games bridges that gap in understanding.”
For all the celebration that the games embody, there’s a poignancy in the way these veterans talk about overcoming adversity. Some of them add a reminder to their story: They made it home safely, but not all of their comrades did.
Raised by a military family in Arizona, Sgt. Elizabeth Wasil signed up for the Army in 2008, right after her 17th birthday. On duty as a combat medic in Iraq, she suffered a hip injury that made her lose use of her lower left leg. She got in the pool to rehab and found joy in competitive swimming two years later. Soon, she won a gold medal in the men’s division at the World Military Swimming & Para-Swimming Open. “When my body hurts and I feel as though I can’t push any harder, I remember all of those who no longer have the choice,” Wasil says. For them, she pushes on.
Editors’ note: Patrick Murphy is a NationSwell Council member.