By Nikki Weldon
Grady Sports Bureau
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — While deployed in Iraq, Army Staff Sgt. Ross Alewine received a Christmas package from his mom that included bedding, jingle bell boxers, a crazy hat and a Michael Jackson CD for him. The other half of the gifts were for one of his platoon mates — at his request.
Alewine, from Williamston, had told his mom someone in his platoon probably wasn’t getting anything for Christmas, so he wanted half of what she planned to spend to go to gifts for that person.
“It’s always been kind of who he is,” said Alewine’s mom, Kelly McCoy.
At the Department of Defense Warrior Games last week, Alewine won the Ultimate Champion title, an individual honor. He had to compete in all eight individual sports to contend, but he also competed in the Warrior Games two team sports — wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball — by choice.
“My biggest support system in the Warrior Games is the guy to my right and left,” Alewine said. “Just like it is in the Army or overseas.”
During Alewine’s 12 years as a soldier, he was a teammate and leader from the beginning. The day Alewine left for basic training, his mom saw him holding a tall stack of manila folders, in charge of getting everyone on the van.
Alewine scored more points than anyone else across all individual sports at the Warrior Games — cycling, track, field, shooting, swimming, archery, powerlifting and indoor rowing. Indoor rowing is his favorite event.
Alewine trained an average of eight hours a day, six days a week for the Games. He continued to train even after he arrived for the Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy for every sport. Team-event practices were mandatory, but individual-sport practices were optional.
“I’ve been nonstop,” Alewine said. “I’m not gonna sit around and wait on it. I put in a lot of prep work to get here.”
Growing up, Alewine played baseball, track, cross country, wrestling, basketball and football. He would play basketball outside and then, 10 minutes later, want to come inside and do something else, his mom said.
“He didn’t know what I was doing or why I was doing it, but I would start to say, ‘OK. Go out and shoot basketball, but you have to do it for 30 minutes,’” McCoy said.
In high school, Alewine found a focus. He made a decision to pursue a career in the military. Alewine was set on becoming a Marine, but an Army recruiter said the Army would take him if the Marines would not.
During his time in the Army, Alewine has suffered from multiple combat injuries and has had over 15 surgeries, many of them on his left foot.
“Knock me down 12 times I’m gonna get up 13 laughing at you asking for more and that’s just how I am,” Alewine said.
He has had four Achilles tendon ruptures. He has no tendons in two of his toes in his left foot. His left ankle is missing bone. An average of 85 percent of his left heel has been cut out.
“Learning to run again is probably my biggest challenge,” Alewine said.
At the Warrior Games, Alewine won gold in the 100 meters in his classification in 13.08 seconds. Alewine ran in the 4×100-meter relay, too, but his team was disqualified.
Alewine planned on trying to compete in the 2017 Warrior Games, but a reconstructive shoulder surgery prevented him from doing so. After qualifying at the regional trials, Alewine dropped out because he would have had to compete at the U.S. Army Warrior Trials two months after his operation.
A combination of all Alewine’s injuries led him to retirement. He will retire July 20, this year, on his 30th birthday.
“It’s not how he wanted to finish it,” McCoy said. “He would have been career.”
After retirement, Alewine will focus on his two daughters, Carson and Kennedy, on training to compete at the 2018 Invictus Games — an international adaptive sporting event — and on getting a degree in either business or recreational therapy. He would like to graduate from Clemson University, but he will start at a technical college.
Alewine plans to compete for the Ultimate Champion title again in the 2019 Warrior Games. Next year’s Games will include two new sports — tennis and rugby.
“I’ll be doing those, too,” Alewine said.
As he goes for a second Ultimate Champion title, he likely will be both an individual competitor and a team player like he was at this year’s Warrior Games — both on and off the playing field.
Before this year’s Games began, an Army athlete was not able to get in a van that was not wheelchair accessible. Alewine picked up his teammate without hesitation and carried him over his shoulder into the van.
“That’s Ross right there in a nutshell,” Army wheelchair basketball head coach Rodney Williams said.
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.