BRADENTON -- In an age when sports stars are idolized, deified and ogled, IMG Academies became the host venue for the real heroes during the four-day USO Wounded Warriors program.
Four combat veterans and their families came to IMG for a few days of sports training at the world-famous Manatee County academy.
But it was more than just sports.
“This is what life is about,” said IMG Academy founder Nick Bollettieri. “It’s giving. Receiving is one thing, but I think the greatest gift in life is what you give to people.”
The recipients were Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Stack, Air Force Capt. Kevin Lombardo, Army Staff Sgt. Alexandro Huertas and retired Air Force Sgt. Wayne “Tom” Marcum.
All suffered mental wounds during their service in the military.
“I don’t have a short-term memory,” said Marcum, who hails from Valdosta, Ga. “I literally will go to bed and wake up the next day, and forget what I did the day before.”
Enter the USO Wounded Warriors, which is one of the only military-related programs that includes families in its efforts to help soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and other veterans.
“A lot of programs don’t involve the whole family,” Marcum said. “It just involves the wounded warrior. You can go on the internet and you can look at a lot of the programs. And it’ll say, Fishing trip for a wounded soldier or a hunting trip for a wounded soldier. Or a caregivers retreat for the caregiver of the wounded soldier. But you never hear anything for the kids.
“One of my kids was diagnosed with secondary PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” he said. “So you can’t forget about the kids.”
For so many in the military, long periods away from family become customary when touring the Middle East during wartime.
At IMG Academies, Huertas played basketball, and Lombardo and Marcum a little bit of golf. The week also gave the military veterans quality time with their families.
“I think the oldest here is my daughter, who’s 15,” said Lombardo, who is still on active duty and stationed at Lackland Air Force Base. “And in the past five years, I’ve been out of her life probably three years out of it. And especially my 8-year-old. To take three years out of anyone’s life, and that’s a long time ... just to get them to come with me on something like this is really fun.”