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Airman earns ‘Ultimate Champion’ title at Warrior Games

  • Published
  • By Shannon Collins
  • DOD News, Defense Media Activity
Medically retired Master Sgt. Reese Hines earned the “Ultimate Champion” title and bragging rights at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy here.

Vying for the title, athletes competed in their respective disability classifications in five sporting events. Each service branch was allotted two slots for a man and woman. Service branches also earned team points based on the designated competitors’ results in their events. The Ultimate Champion was the athlete who earned the most points in the events.

From June 15-21, Hines and about 250 other wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and U.K. armed forces competed in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

Surprised to win

Hines, a first-time Warrior Games competitor, said he was surprised to end up as this year’s winner.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” he said. “I knew they put me in for it, but I didn’t know what kind of chance I had. I just had the mindset that I would go in and do my best and try hard. I had people throughout the week trying to tell me my rankings, but I tried to separate that from what I was doing. I just wanted to focus on the singular event.”

Hines said he also enjoyed sharing the experience with his sons, Aiden, 2, and Gavin, 10. The boys “were at the archery event, and as soon as I shot my last arrow, they both came up and gave me hugs,” he said. “I was pretty surprised they came up that quickly. Just watching them smile and be happy and then watching them walk around with my medals on, it’s pretty special. This will definitely be one to remember for a long time.”

Hines said he was inspired to try out for the Warrior Games by his girlfriend and teammate, medically retired Master Sgt. Kyle Burnett, who earned the Ultimate Champion title last year. He said there may be some teasing now that they both have won the award, but he acknowledged that she did motivate him to win it.

“It was definitely nice to have that goal to work toward -- not just the individual events, but overall. It’s special,” he said. “I saw her award when we first started dating, and she told me about it. I didn’t think much about it, but I saw how proud she was, so that’s something I took away. It’s nice to have that same feeling now.”

Shared interests

Hines, who spent 13 years in the Air Force as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, was taking apart an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan when he was called to deactivate another IED under a yellow jug with an exposed handle. Without a robot or bomb suit, he tried to deactivate the pressure plate when the device was remotely detonated and 20 pounds of explosives activated less than 2 feet from him, he said.

He suffered damage to both eyes; his right eye later surgically removed. His right hand was almost severed and was put back together, he said, though he lost his right index finger. His right wrist was fused, and some of his knuckles were fused to the right hand and thumb. He also had a brain bleed, a traumatic brain injury, a bolt in his skull, broken jaw, ruptured eardrums, soft-tissue damage to both arms, nerve damage to his leg, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s gone through 30 to 40 surgeries.

While in Basra, Iraq, in July 2009, Burnett was injured when a rocket landed about 10 feet from her. Three of her fellow service members were killed, and two others were injured. She was knocked unconscious and suffered a TBI and PTSD from the incident.

Because the couple has TBIs and PTSD, as well as a shared love of baseball and softball, they hit it off when they met during a veteran softball league, they said, adding that they’ve been dating for nine months.

“I had decided to get out more and try to meet more people and do more things in the community,” Burnett said. “We hung out and had similarities from being ballplayers in high school and stuff like that. Then I invited him to come do the 9/11 run with me, and he hadn’t run in years, but he came out and he did it. And we just kind of went from there, from friendship to dating.”

Hines said he accepted his injuries early on, but turned down invitations to the training camps and trials until he met Burnett. “Having been an athlete when I was younger, I was scared it would be less than I thought it would be. I didn’t want to feel like I was competing on a lower level,” he said.

Burnett said he quickly learned that the athletes at the Warrior Games trials compete just as hard as any athlete out there. “There’s some serious athletes, some serious competition in the visual impairment and arm injury division,” she said. “There’s an EOD athlete who’s blind that swims in the Paralympics now, and he’s world-record fast.”

Having fun

Burnett said Hines does like to have fun with people, especially with his “party eye.” Hines said he wanted his party eye to be unique, so he brought in a sterling earring with his EOD specialty badge to put inside it. Burnett said people should watch their drinks around him.

“Reese likes to throw his party eye into people’s drinks when they aren’t watching. When they get to the bottom, there’s Reese’s eye staring at them,” she said.

His sons have taken up his love of the water from his competitions, and Gavin wants to go to Alaska and shoot a bear with a bow and arrow, “which is something I don’t think I want to do,” Hines said. “I’d like to see them run and just stay active and outdoors, playing and burning off that energy.”

Both Hines and Burnett have racked up medals at the games and hope to make it onto the U.S. team at the next Invictus Games. They said they are grateful for each other, their teammates, friends and family. “We help each other keep that drive to compete,” Hines said.