Wounded warriors compete, recover through sports

For the past five years, Team Semper Fi has sent some of its members to compete in the Cooper River Bridge Run held in Charleston.

In a crowd of thousands, these men and women stand apart. They are living examples of courage; members of the U.S. military who have suffered terrible wounds in the course of serving our country.

Shot, hit by mortar fire and exploding bombs, they come to race, sometimes in wheelchairs, but with the determination to overcome.

Lori Wiegel, a parishioner of Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan, said she remembers one young man whose leg had been shattered by an explosive device. He wore a metal halo, but still he competed.

Each year, the church and school, along with the Tri-County Blue Star Mothers of America, has hosted a pasta supper to honor the team and encourage people to join them in the bridge run.

They are known as America’s Wounded Warriors Team Semper Fi. Some of them are double and triple amputees, while others carry their injuries inside, Wiegel said.

“Some of them are injuries you can see and some of them are injuries you can’t see,” she said. “But all in all, these are our kids, these are our sons and daughters.”

Wiegel and her husband are both retired from the Navy, and she has two sons in the service. Lt. Commander Stephen Wiegel is in the Navy, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Wiegel serves in the Marine Corps. She has another son, Scott Wiegel, who is a fireman in North Charleston.

She knows these wounded warriors could be them.

“Without people like them, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have,” she said.

Team Semper Fi is an athletic sports team made up of more than 220 injured service members who compete in athletic events across the country.

This year, they had 17 people participate in the bridge run.

The team consists of servicemen and women who have overcome significant challenges and refused to let their injuries prevent them from competing in athletic events. Members are also given the opportunity to receive Olympic training through partnership with the U.S. Paralympics.

Their motto is “Recovery Through Sport” and they are supported by the Semper Fi Fund.

The fund is a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance and quality of life solutions for Marines and sailors, plus members of the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard who are injured while in support of Marine forces.

The money raised provides relief to qualified service members and their families for immediate financial needs that arise during hospitalization and recovery, plus perpetuating needs such as home modifications, customized transportation and specialized equipment.

One of the men the Semper Fi Fund has helped recently is Sgt. John Paul Phillips from St. Stephen, Wiegel said.

The young man was a victim of a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq, and the funds allowed his family to travel overseas and remain by his side. Wiegel said he battled his injuries for three months before passing away.

“No matter what your beliefs are, just remember to keep the men and women who protect our country in your prayers,” she said.