CAFB Airman wins big at 2018 Warrior Games

Air Force Captain Hunter Barnhill hugs a friend after returning to Mississippi from competition in the 2018 Warrior Games, where he won three medals (Photo by Ryan Phillips, DTL)
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
DTL EDITOR

When Air Force Captain Hunter Barnhill entered the terminal at Golden Triangle Regional Airport on Sunday afternoon, he was met with applause and signs welcoming him back to Mississippi.

From June 1-9, Barnhill was in Golden Springs, Colorado, competing at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Barnhill was just one of 300 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans who participated in the competition. But he didn’t come home empty-handed.

“I came away with a little hardware … I can say I had a little success,” Barnhill laughed, showing off his three medals.

Competing in shooting, which involves air pistols and air rifles, along with cycling and rowing events, Barnhill won bronze and silver for indoor rowing events and another bronze for shooting.

He hopes to use his success as motivation to himself and other service members who could compete.

Above all, he wants people to know the competition exists.

“I want other Airmen to know it exists,” he said. “I want other Airmen to know if they get injured or seriously ill, there is a program out there for you and they’re not going to give up on you.”

A LONG ROAD TO VICTORY

The path to success at the Warrior Games was a challenging one for Barnhill, his wife Crystal and son Nolan.

On Easter Sunday 2017, Barnhill was at an Easter egg hunt with friends and family when his hand formed a first and he was unable to spread his fingers.

He collapsed on the ground and after his friends rushed to his side, it was discovered the Airman had suffered a seizure as the result of brain tumor found shortly after.

Barnhill, who works as a 37th Flying Training Squad instructor at Columbus Air Force Base, had surgery at UAB Hospital in Birmingham and due to his young age and good health, doctors were able to be aggressive throughout the surgery.

However, due to the intense nature of Barnhill’s surgery, he began to suffer from post-operative Supplementary Motor Area Syndrome (SMA).

The condition rendered Barnhill paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak. It would then take three months of physical and speech therapy to regain his abilities to walk, run and speak.

Luckily, Barnhill was introduced to the Warrior Games after an email chain between his commander at the time and somebody at the Air Force Wounded Warrior program (AFW2).

The Warrior Games were established in 2010 as a way to enhance recovery and rehabilitation of wounded, ill and injured service members by exposing them to adaptive sports.

The 11-event competition features sports such as archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, indoor rowing, powerlifting and wheelchair basketball.

After watching the Invictus Games during his physical therapy, Barnhill was inspired and began competing in several adaptive sports during an AFW2 camp at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Barnhill would then go on to qualify for the 2018 Warrior Games in shooting, cycling and indoor rowing.

To show the progression that got Barnhill to the Warrior Games, the airman went from having difficulty walking from the couch to the backyard, to biking over 15 miles in a single training session.

“It was such an honor to go up and represent team BLAZE and crush it for them and have some success representing a base that has shown me so much support,” Barnhill said following his return to Mississippi.

Team BLAZE is the CAFB motto, which stands for “Building Leaders, Advancing Integrity, Service before Self and Excellence in All We Do.”

Commander Doug Gosney, of the 14th Flying Training Wing, attended the welcome home event at GTRA, and told the Starkville Daily News that he hopes Barnhill’s success will serve as an inspiration to others in similar situations.

“He is a great example of what it means to be a resilient Airman, and a resilient human being,” Gosney said. “If you’re not inspired by his story, you probably need to check your pulse.”

Gosney has known Barnhill for four years and said it has been phenomenal watching his recovery.

“To have a capstone event where he gets to compete as a Wounded Warrior and not just represent Team BLAZE and the Air force Family, it’s been remarkable,” Gosney said.

Barnhill then encouraged service members interested in participating, saying the people involved will provide the right resources to promote healing.

“If adaptive sports is what it takes to make your healing accelerate, then they’ve got your back,” he said.

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