Warrior Games: what brings us together

This is an election year, and we Americans will spend a great deal of the next few weeks and months enduring partisan rhetoric and sharp reminders about what divides us. The Warrior Games, which just wrapped up in Colorado Springs, Colo., offered a great lesson in what brings us together.

Any one of the some 220 stories in the Warrior Games would have given you pause. Some would have made you cry. The Games, underwritten in significant measure by Deloitte, are put on by the U.S. Olympic Commitee for wounded, injured and ill veterans and service members.

Steve Lipscomb, who is now 44, of Goldsboro, N.C., is a Navy petty officer specializing in logistical support.

Scratch that. Steve Lipscomb is an outstanding petty officer, so good that six years ago he was picked to work with the Blue Angels, the Navy's flight demonstration team. He served with the Blues from 2006-09.

Lipscomb and his wife, Sharon, are the parents of two little girls. He is a diehard Pittsburgh Steeler fan. He is also a big Duke basketball fan.

In August, 2010, Lipscomb was diagnosed with stage four gastric cancer.

It's terminal, he was told.

I'm going to beat this thing, he said.

Last year's were the second Warrior Games. Lipscomb was among those chosen to represent the Navy, despite the fact he was enduring a heavy chemotherapy regimen.

Many of his Navy teammates were 20 years younger. Some were confronting severe combat-related injuries.

Along with his wife and family, those 2011 Warrior Games gave Lipscomb motivation to carry on. Others on his team, he reasoned, needed help as much or maybe more than he did.

Judi Boyce, a 24-year-old Navy cook from Mt. Olive, N.J., underwent brain surgery on March 30, 2011. The Warrior Games were held in mid-May of last year.

"They didn't think I would make it," she said. "Steve hooked me up with a pair of sneakers and said knowing you're going to use these afterward will help you get through surgery. He sent me Girl Scout cookies and a key chain.

"… I came to the Games with a shaved head. He didn't care. For me, he was the one trying to help me look on the bright side. Not many people thought I was going to make it. Steve was there for me when I had my surgery. It shows you the power of sports and healing."

Lipscomb not only competed at the 2011 Warrior Games -- he was chosen the Navy and Coast Guard torchbearer at opening ceremony.

He said at one point during last year's Games, "We as a team push each other and came together like I've never experienced. I've been on many teams my whole life but one of them are like this one."

The Games, the teamwork, the camaraderie -- it all worked. Lipscomb returned to active duty, according to Georgia Monsom, herself an amazing woman, retired after 30 years in the Navy as a command master chief, now a non-medical care manager for the Navy's "Safe Harbor" organization, which coördinates aid for sailors, Coast Guardsmen and their families.

Georgia Monsom is Steve Lipscomb's care manager. If you were in any kind of trouble, you'd want Georgia Monsom looking after you.

When she first met Lipscomb, she said, he was in a really bad way. And then, she said, with pride, "He beat it. He went cancer-free for 10 months. It's just phenomenal."

"… Then he went into remission for 10 months. He returned to active duty. He was keeping it at bay. Unfortunately, on March 13," two months ago, "he went back into the hospital with what we thought were kidney stones.

"We almost lost him on April 19. They called the family in and said, 'He's not going to make it.'

But he did.

And why?

"He kept saying, 'I've got to make it to the Warrior Games. I've got to be there for the Warrior Games.'

"We kept saying, 'Your fight right now is cancer.' We'll make you honorary captain."

Which is what happened.

The Navy team that competed at the 2012 Warrior Games wore ribbons for Steve Lipscomb and dedicated those Games to him, while he fought it out in a hospital in Virginia.

"Whether you are first or last, this is a united group of people," said Navy Lt. (retired) John Edmonston, 32, of Bremerton, Wash., along with Boyce one of those who took part in the 2012 Games.

He added, "I'd do anything for Steve."

Everyone knows the Army and Navy have a healthy rivalry. The Army competitors at the Warrior Games signed a get-well-Steve card.

"For sure," Edmonston said, "Steve is a big bringer-together."

Georgia Monsom said she has herself a new mission. Assuming Lipscomb gets himself out of the hospital and gets strong enough over the summer, it's time for some football. Some Pittsburgh Steelers football.

"You know a guy has got to be pretty awesome," she said, "when the Army team wants to do a shout-out for someone from the Navy, right?"