Brandon's Blog: Warriors and Wolverines

May 7, 2012

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

An elite athlete must muster all his or her strength to train for competition on the world stage. It takes stamina, focus and dedication to fulfill the dream of a championship.

Currently, 17 of our men and women swimmers are in Colorado Springs, Colo., for altitude training as they prepare for the summer circuit, which includes Grand Prix events and the Olympic Trials. They need to perfect their stroke, get stronger and work hard to get every ounce of strength out of their body when they will need it most.

Nothing will get in their way as they work toward their goals; after all, they are elite athletes. They know what they have to accomplish if they are going to succeed.

And yet, even serendipity can play a role in helping this type of athlete, and that is exactly what happened last week in Colorado Springs.

Our Michigan swimming contingent was invited to the opening ceremonies of the third annual Warrior Games, an event created to celebrate the achievement and abilities of disabled service members through athletic competition.

They listened to first lady Michelle Obama and other high-ranking military officers talk about the sacrifice, determination and courage of all branches of the military and specifically the sacrifice of the disabled athletes participating in these games. The ceremony itself would have made it a moment to remember, but once again the block 'M' took this experience to a new level.

Sheila Taormina, the head coach of the United States Marine Swimming Team, noticed the 'M' on the warm-ups after a Michigan training session and asked the team if they would return to the pool deck to talk to the Marines.

(Taormina is from the Detroit area and has an affinity for the University of Michigan. She is quite an athlete and a wonderful person. She competed in four consecutive summer Olympiads in three completely different sports, is a motivational speaker, and works on behalf of two non-profit organizations.)

Our athletes weren't sure what they were going to do, and when they arrived, they were in for a surprise!

They literally helped coach the Marines in the water. The student-athletes provided the Wounded Warriors with pointers in starts, turns and stroke techniques.

These young women and men have taught these techniques to youngsters at swimming clinics in the past, but this time all of the swimmers were older and all were Marines with disabilities.

Wolverines with Marines team

Wolverines pictured with the Marines and coaches (front right) Sheila Taormina and Daniel Smith include: Front row -- Melissa Lang; Middle row (from left) -- Adrienne Bicek, Linnea Johnson, Valerie Barthelemy, Ashley Cohagen, Kayla Douglas; Back row -- Kally Fayhee, Connor Jaeger, Ryan Feeley, Deirdre Jones, Dan Madwed, Dan Miller, Erin Cameron and Molly Schaefer; Not pictured -- Roman Willets, Samantha Pearson and Julia Andracki.

Working with veterans who had been felled by an IED (improvised explosive device) or wounded in some other severe manner was a new experience for each of our U-M student-athletes. They were awestruck.

And while the work in the pool was fulfilling, the discussion after the workout was even more insightful.

"We were all feeling unsure about the situation," said Erin Cameron, a junior-to-be on the women's swimming team. "All this happened to them while they were defending our country.

"When I was talking to the Marines and some of their coaches, one of the Marines said, 'Don't feel sorry for us. We are a different breed of people, we are Marines. We are tough. We can deal with this.'"

Added Cameron, "We have two hands, two legs and a perfect body ... yet we complain about the struggles we have. That made a huge impact on all of us."

The Marines thanked our swimmers for their insight into the sport. But it was the Michigan men and women who gained the most from this chance meeting.

They learned the Warrior Games and similar events are extremely important to the recovery of athletes with disabilities. They also witnessed real courage, firsthand.

Via email, Taormina was highly complimentary of the Wolverines and expressed gratitude for their efforts:

It was so wonderful having all of you from U of M swimming on deck yesterday. Not only did you make an impact with stroke technique on the Marines (who are not from swimming backgrounds! :), but more than that you gave your hearts. The program is about reconditioning, and many of these Marines need to have fun and engage with people for healing even more than they need doctor's appointments for their physical wounds at this point. The intangibles are the most important, and all of you gave so many intangibles yesterday.

As I mentioned on the deck to a few of you, I am really impressed you chose to take time in the middle of the day to see what the Warrior Games are about. You could have taken that afternoon nap that I know most swimmers need on training camps :) But it does not surprise me that students from U of M, and especially the swimmers who swim under Jim Richardson, would choose to check out a new life experience. The men's team too!! I do not know Mike Bottom as well as I know Jim Richardson, but wow, what a great group of guys he has on the team!!! Please pass along my thanks to them. Mike must be doing something really right in his recruiting! I've heard coaches like Jack Bauerle (Taormina's collegiate coach at Georgia) and Jim Richardson say "always go for the intelligent, connected, glimmer-in-the-eye kind of athlete, and the swimming results will take care of themselves."

Take good care, and thanks again. Have great training today! :)

-- Sheila Taormina

This Wounded Warrior experience may or may not help our U-M student-athletes as they compete in the pool. Regardless, the life lessons in courage learned from those brave and special Marines is something they will never forget.

THANK YOU to all our women and men who have served -- or who are currently serving -- in our armed services.

Go Blue!

Dave Brandon Home Page