Senior NCO beats the odds, competes in Warrior Games (yet again)
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Sanders, right, trains in Hangar 5 with Staff Sgt. Raymond Rugenstein, April 10, prior to Sanders’ departure for the 2012 Warrior Games. After four years of being cancer-free, Sanders will participate in in the 2012 Warrior Games. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Cynthia Spalding)
Posted 4/26/2012 Updated 4/26/2012
by Air Force Staff Sgt. Cynthia Spalding
JBER Public Affairs
4/26/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Cancer survivor Senior Master Sgt. Michael Sanders, superintendent of operations directorate of joint staff, Alaskan Command, plans to retire this September.
But he won't finish his career without running a few more races, including his second participation in the Warrior Games.
A brief re-cap
Sanders said 2007 was a tough year. His father, Tommy, was diagnosed with colon cancer and his son, Shawn, had just had heart surgery.
Who would have been thinking about their own pain with all that going on?
"My son demonstrated to me strength and trust," Sanders said. "His attitude
certainly showed me that I could trust our God."
Soon after his son's surgery, Sanders was diagnosed with Stage IV squamous-cell carcinoma in his throat in September of 2007.
"My dad, even though he was fighting his own fight, was always encouraging me during my fight against cancer," Sanders said. "I don't know what I would have done without my whole family."
The Warrior Games
Several radiation treatments and surgeries later, Sanders was proclaimed cancer-free in January of 2008.
This, however, did not stop Sanders from his participation in local 5K, half marathons or even his selected participation in the very first Department of Defense Warrior Games in 2010.
The Warrior Games are a celebration of the achievement and abilities of wounded, ill and injured service members through athletic competitions.
Winners of the games can also go on to compete for the Paralympics.
"My experience as an athlete in the first games was a way to get back to what I thought was normal," Sanders said. "Of course, normal is different for all of us and this is my new normal. The coaches and fellow athletes were all so supportive, encouraging and inspiring."
Sanders, with 23 years of service, is still not ready to quit racing just yet.
Even after suffering from post-traumatic growth syndrome, a diagnosis with symptoms involving a person's challenge of returning to normal activities with their newly changed lives, he still strives to continue doing his best in physical fitness.
"When he has a fitness goal, nothing will stop him," said his wife, Laurie. "He does get frustrated when he sees people not doing their best on their (physical fitness) test, so he's always striving for others to have goals too."
He was recently selected for the 2012 Warrior Games, which will take place this May.
He plans to compete in the recumbent trike competition and the 1500-meter run.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Damian Orslene of Ocean Springs, Miss., participated in the first warrior games in 2010 with Sanders and mentioned his excitement to have him join the team again.
"It's really good to have such a great leader, friend and athlete return to the team for this season," Orslene said. "We missed having him here last year because he brings a positive attitude that helps bring the team's spirits up right when the moment gets tough."
Until the finishline
After Sanders makes it through another season of Warrior Games, he doesn't plan to stop.
He also has marked on his calendar the Sea-to-Shining-Sea Ride, a World T.E.A.M. (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports event, with 13 selected wounded, ill or injured warriors before he retires from the Air Force.
This is a cycling event that will take about two months, going from one coast of the United States to the other, starting at the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco and ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Sanders aspires to run another marathon in his future.
Not only does he have all these plans while still in the Air Force, but even with everything he's overcome, his physical training score has never been lower than 100 percent.
Sanders continues to train with Staff Sgt. Raymond Rugenstein, a weather forecaster with the 3rd Operations Support Squadron, leading up to his departure for the Warrior Games.
"If I can be half the runner that Sgt. Sanders is when I am even half his age, I'll be happy," Rugenstein said.
Sanders is set to retire in August 2012, but his running doesn't stop there, as he still plans to be a member of the base running club and helping others who struggle with running.
"I could not have done it without God as my light, my wife as my faithful partner and the support of all the people around me," Sanders said.
"As Romans 5 says, '...we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame...'"
For the first three parts of the story, visit www.618tacc.amc.af.mil/.