CHICAGO – The 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games gave one medically retired airman with advanced cancer the chance to be an athlete again as he earned a silver medal in the ultimate champion competition.
About 265 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command, the United Kingdom and Australia competed here June 30 to July 8 in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
“It was a tough week and fun competing; earning the silver medal in the ultimate champion competition makes the week worth it,” said former Air Force Capt. Austin Williamson, a former developmental engineer for the Air Force.
“It makes the week worth it, pushing through. Hopefully it will inspire others that there’s more beyond whatever you’re fighting with at the time. Life is still worth living and getting out and doing that despite whatever you’re going through.”
Williamson was pursuing a master’s degree in astronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology when he was diagnosed with stage IV synovial cell sarcoma that required his right foot to be amputated below the knee.
He said he has his good and bad days.
“It’s a reality for my family and I that holidays like this past Fourth of July could be my last one given the advanced stage of my cancer,” he said. “It’s something that is always in the back of my mind. As a result, I deal with anxiety and depression on a regular basis.”
Williamson said the Air Force Wounded Warrior program has given him an outlet to fight against the anxiety and depression.
“When I’m training and competing, I’m not thinking about my next chemo treatment or how I’m feeling,” he said.
“In those moments, I’m free from that weight. Also seeing my Air Force teammates overcome their challenges and push themselves to achieve goals they didn’t think were possible gives me hope and encouragement. It helps me to keep fighting, and I’m honored to have served with them on active duty and compete alongside them at the Warrior Games.”
He said he always enjoyed athletics and when he was in high school, he played competitive men’s volleyball. At the Warrior Games, he competed in sitting volleyball, track and field, swimming and cycling.
“I’m very excited to be here and at the same time, nervous,” Williamson said. “I don’t know how my body is going to do day-to-day with ongoing treatments, but it’s good to challenge myself. I’ve been most excited to play in the sitting volleyball matches because it gives me another opportunity to play a sport I love.”
The Air Force took fourth place in a close match up with the Marines in sitting volleyball.
Williamson said family and friends came to watch him compete.
“Over the week, I had parents here, an aunt, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend, friends from one of my first assignments, one of my chemo nurses, and a prior commander,” he said. “I also had all of our friends tracking the games from around the country. It was a tremendous amount of support.”
He said the Warrior Games gave him hope, and he hopes to compete in them, as well as the Invictus Games, next year.
“Hope is an incredible tool in recovery, and so is the warrior spirit,” Williamson said. “[The Air Force Wounded Warrior program] and the DoD Warrior Games gives severely injured, wounded and ill service members both.
Between our teammates, coaches and staff, we share in that military camaraderie that promotes hope in recovery and the resiliency to fight through adversity.”
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