Fisher Alumnus Earns Gold in 2017 Warrior Games

August 16, 2017

This summer, St. John Fisher College alumnus Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 joined more than 250 wounded, ill, and injured military service members and veterans to compete in the eighth annual Warrior Games.

Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 earned a gold medal as a member of the Team Army wheelchair basketball team.

Organized by the United States Department of Defense, the Warrior Games brought together teams from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and U.S. Special Operations Command for friendly competition in seven adaptive sporting events. Teams from the United Kingdom Armed Forces and Australian Defence Force also joined the competition.

Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 represented Team Army in the 2017 Warrior Games.

Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 represented Team Army in the 2017 Warrior Games.

Though a novice to the games, McGinnis competed in seated volleyball, seated shot put and discus, hand cycling, and wheelchair basketball.

While many undergraduates learn to balance academics and athletics, few could juggle the schedule McGinnis, an interdisciplinary studies major and four-year member of the Fisher football program, pulled off. He joined the military as a sophomore at Fisher, and completed 10-week basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri between his sophomore and junior years. The next summer, he completed Advanced Individual Training, preparing for his job in the Army as a heavy equipment operator.

“It was a crazy balance. I had college duties with academics and football responsibilities, and military obligations, including drill weekends each month,” he said.

As hectic as the schedule may seem, the idea of waiting until graduation to enlist wasn’t an option for McGinnis.

“My mom raised me and my brother, and she instilled in us at a very young age not to be average,” he said. “She was a big advocate of helping others, and I wanted to figure out a way to give back. To me, what better way than to give back to my country? I realized I had this urge that I wanted to do something more. I had to go get it done, and that’s why I joined as a sophomore.”

After graduation, McGinnis received active duty orders and deployed to Afghanistan in November 2013. He was in-country just three weeks before suffering a life-changing leg injury. After finishing out his deployment, he was assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, under military recovery status in July 2014. Doctors initially warned McGinnis it was likely he wouldn’t be able to run for a while, if ever again.

“That was a real hard piece to comprehend and it gave me a negative outlook,” he said. “It’s been a long process; I’ve had five knee surgeries since my deployment.”

Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 (standing) hugs a fellow member of Team Army.

Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 (standing) hugs a fellow member of Team Army.

For McGinnis, recovery wasn’t only physical, but psychological as well, and he initially shrugged off suggestions to get involved in adaptive sports. But in many ways, McGinnis’ history as an athlete has helped prepare him for the highs and lows of recovery. A two-time MVP and Scholar Athlete at Bainbridge-Guilford High School in Bainbridge, New York, McGinnis suffered a tear to his ACL his senior year. But the injury didn’t stop him. While at a football camp at Syracuse University, he met a coach from Fisher, and was eventually recruited by Assistant Head Coach Jim Scacchetti.

“Sports help build up our mentality—you train for these things,” he said. “We know there are going to be highs and lows in every game, and you can relate that to life. With injuries, you have to be able to ride the highs and the lows and figure out how to find the balance between them.”

And like any challenge on or off the field, finding that balance took time and the support of others.

“My battle buddies—my fellow solders going through the same thing I was—got me involved and convinced me to try out these things,” he said.

As determined as ever to not be average, in just one year of participating in adaptive sports and trial competitions, McGinnis was selected to represent Team Army at the Warrior Games.

“I found a new passion for the same sports, just in a different light,” he said. “It’s given me the comradery and competition that I was lacking.”

That competitive edge helped McGinnis and Team Army place gold in the wheelchair basketball tournament, edging out Team Navy 56-55. The championship game was broadcasted on ESPN and held in the United Center.

“It was a crazy event,” he said. “We got to play in the house that Michael Jordan built.”

Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 gives an interview to a reporter from ESPN.

Sgt. Chris McGinnis ’12 gives an interview to a reporter from ESPN.

This year was the first time the games have been open to the public. The games were hosted by comedian John Stewart, and McGinnis, along with several other competitors, were featured on ESPN, among other national news outlets. McGinnis said the added awareness and outside support made for a wild ride.

“It was a lifetime of experiences in a span of nine days,” McGinnis recalled. “It means the world to us to be able to showcase our true talents. These guys and gals have battled back from the craziest of injuries and to see the amazing things they can do in their respective sports is absolutely incredible.”

And for many like McGinnis, their athletic journeys are just beginning. McGinnis intends to compete in the 2018 games at an Air Force base in Colorado Springs, with an eye on earning an invite to the 2018 Invictus Games, the multi-sport event for wounded warriors founded by Price Harry.

“To see the support is amazing,” he said. “We just want to showcase what we can do.”