As members of Team Marine Corps stepped off the planes and headed for the gate Thursday, they didn’t know who was waiting on the other side of the tunnel.
Dozens of Colorado Springs residents holding signs, flags and ready to cheer welcomed the athletes to the city ahead of the 2018 Warrior Games hosted at the Air Force Academy.
For Lance Corporal Brent Gaffey, it was a car accident.
"I was all by myself in the hospital," Gaffey said. "I had family members and friends come in and come out, but I lost that sense of accomplishment."
It was Staff Sergeant Jason Bacheco’s third tour, his first in Afghanistan.
"In 2010, I stepped on an IED in Afghanistan, and I lost my right leg below the knee," Bacheco said. "I was a scout sniper team leader at the time, and I just had so much love and passion for what I did, I couldn’t just give it up."
Those injuries have changed Gaffey and Bacheco’s lives, and their military careers, forever.
But it’s also why they’re in Colorado Springs — to compete in the 2018 Warrior Games.
"These games represent a lot to us," Bacheco said. "It’s pretty much like.. It’s like some of the pinnacle events of your healing process, not just physically but mentally."
Some 300 injured, wounded and ill service members will put their pride on the line and compete across 11 adaptive sports, like sitting volleyball, track and field, and cycling.
The games are more than competition though. They give the warriors the chance to set their injury or illness on the side and turn their focus toward something outside the hospital, which both Gaffey and Bacheco said helps in their recovery.
"This lets me focus on the competition and kind of get my mindset right," Gaffey said. "And, you know, kind of get back in that groove of no pain, no gain."
And though the games are more than a week away, Colorado Springs residents greeted all of the Warrior athletes at the Colorado Springs Airport — a welcome that made them feel right at home.
"It’s nice to be known that you’re not forgotten, especially when you get injured," Gaffey said.
The Warrior Games kick off June 1 at the Air Force Academy, with an opening ceremony scheduled for June 2.