Lt. Cmdr. Maria G. Mannix is a Navy surface warfare officer who is competing in the 2016 Warrior Games. The cancer fighter has had to juggle her time between doctor appointments, her duties as a deputy director of the Training Support Center in San Diego, and training for the Warrior Games where she's a competitor in shot put, discus, rifle shooting, and sitting volleyball.
The Warrior Games are an annual competition held by the Department of Defense where wounded and sick service members compete in an Olympic-style competition.
Mannix says that - despite the challenge of being an athlete and Navy officer while fighting cancer - participating in the Warrior Games and other sports competitions with the Navy Wounded Warrior - Safe Harbor program has been an important part of her recovery.
US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Maria Gomez-Mannix competes in the Pacific Trials for the 2015 Warrior Games. Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
"Safe Harbor has really been a positive part of my recovery process because you meet other teammates that have serious illnesses and serious injuries and you see how they're dealing with whatever they have, and it's inspirational. It gives you a different outlook on things," she said.
It's not just Mannix's teammates who help push her forward. The competition from wounded warriors on other teams helps as well.
"I had met a lot of the other athletes from different branches, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force," she said, "and the more I got to make friends in other branches the more I realized that I needed to step up my game. It's wonderful to make new friends but you also get to see the competitive edge from everybody else that's going to be at the games as well. It helped me to focus on improving my athletic skills and trying to get my upper body strength to the best fitness I could have to be here for the games."
US Navy Lt. Cmdr Maria Gomez-Mannix receives a medal for her performance in a field event of the 2015 Warrior Games. Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Terry W. Miller Jr.
That upper body strength is very important for Mannix. She's fighting breast cancer and her surgeries have made training a challenge, but a strong upper body is vital to her performance.
"I've had multiple upper body surgeries which, anatomically, have changed my upper thoracic cavity. It's more than just getting ready for the games. It's PT and rehabilitation as well. But when you're on the volleyball court, you're literally using your hands as your legs and you have to be quick so you can react to the ball. There's a lot of muscle strength that you need to have there. Same with my field events, I'm doing shotput and discus throwing. Again, it's more of an upper body requirement."
Mannix says that this training and competition helps patients connect in a way they can't with their care providers or loved ones.
"We're having a fantastic time playing and competing, but we're also recovering and helping each other in a way you're not going to get talking to a counselor or your doctor or your nurse or even your family and friends. It's a different type of bond and it's a different kind of camaraderie."
"You expand the support network you already have," she said. "Everybody wants to come home with the gold medal and be the winner, in the end, when the games are done, you hug and you say, 'The games are over. Let's go have some fun now.'"
The Navy sitting volleyball team was eliminated early in the tournament, but the field events are taking place Jun. 16 when Mannix will compete in discus and shot put. She will also compete in shooting on Jun. 19.
Viewers can find the games schedule, live streaming schedules, and event results at DoDlive.mil. Updates are also available at the Warrior Games Twitter account.