Once A Marine

Wounded in War, Resilient at Home: One Marine’s Mission to Overcome

For Mike DeLancey, CEO and co-founder of Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch (WWAR), hosting the United States Wheelchair Rugby Association (USWRA) national wheelchair rugby championships in Tampa, Fla., this year was the culmination of years of hard work and growth for his organization.

“When we started the foundation in 2015, we were just focused on getting injured veterans out of the house and hospital, showing them what could still be done despite their disabilities,” says DeLancey, a U.S. Marine veteran who was paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet in Iraq in 2006. “A couple years in, we transitioned to offering adaptive sports programs.”

WWAR CEO and co-founder Mike DeLancey. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).


DeLancey’s life was forever changed on Sept. 1, 2006, while serving as a Marine with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Iraq. During a dismounted foot patrol, DeLancey was shot by a sniper, the bullet entering his back, shattering his seventh vertebra and hitting his right shoulder and lung. He was critically injured and paralyzed from the wounds.

After initially being treated at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., the Tampa Bay native chose to do his rehab closer to home at the local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) polytrauma unit. Having a strong support system of family and friends, including fellow Marines who would take leave to visit him, helped DeLancey get through his recovery. Once in Tampa, his childhood friends continually encouraged him, inviting him to go fishing and “pushing him to do things,” so he could adapt to his new normal.

Seeing newly injured veterans coming through the Tampa VA during the peak years of the war inspired DeLancey to start advising them on which groups and organizations could properly accommodate their disabilities. This motivation led him to become a spokesperson before eventually co-founding his own nonprofit, Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch.

The ranch started its first wheelchair softball team in 2018, followed soon after by a wheelchair rugby squad. The programs expanded rapidly, and today WWAR fields two competitive rugby teams, the WWAR Generals and WWAR Warriors. Their bid to host the 2024 national tournament, which wrapped up May 5, was a significant milestone.

The WWAR Generals faced the Texas Stampede in the division 1 championship game. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).


“Looking back and seeing how many teams we welcomed to Tampa International Airport, hosting major donors and sponsors ¾ it was a real reflection point on how far we’ve come as an organization,” DeLancey says.

A total of 18 teams from across the country descended on the Tampa area May 2-5 and were split into three divisions for a series of round-robin games to determine seeding.

After two days of pool play, Sunday featured championship games with teams from all three divisions vying for championship status. Organizing and hosting such a major event for the first time was an immense challenge for WWAR’s staff and volunteers.

“There was a lot of stress early on because we didn’t fully know what we were getting into,” DeLancey admits. “But it ended up running pretty smoothly, and it was so rewarding seeing the athletes able to just focus on competition.”

DeLancey, who is a level T6 paraplegic, knows firsthand the positive impact participating in adaptive sports can have on injured veterans.

“I really want to encourage everyone to pursue some kind of adaptive recreational activity ¾ the camaraderie and tight-knit family you become a part of is life-changing.”

While WWAR is still doing an informal debrief and has some “minor tweaks” in mind for next year’s nationals, DeLancey views their inaugural hosting of the national championships as a rousing success that validates the nonprofit’s evolution from its humble beginnings.

As they look ahead, he and his team are eager to continue introducing more veterans to the healing power of adaptive sports.


Championship Games
Division 1

WWAR Generals 60, Texas Stampede 49

Division 2

NEP Wildcats 54, WASA Lightning 53 (OT)

Division 3

Portland Pounders 50, Las Vegas High Rollers 38


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