Team Semper Fi helps wounded warriors compete in athletics

T.J. Pemberton of Edmond, a Marine veteran, competes in archery during the Endeavor Games at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

By Ed Godrey | News OK | | June 11, 2011


If not for Team Semper Fi, injured Marine veteran Dan Govier says he probably would just be sitting in the basement of his Wisconsin home.


Instead, Govier, who was wounded in Iraq in 2003, competes in archery at Paralympic events across the country, including this weekend’s Endeavor Games in Edmond.


“I didn’t even know about Paralympic events or even that I qualified for them,” said Govier, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and other wounds in combat. “That’s what Team Semper Fi does. They get us up to be active.”

It’s desperately needed for some, he said.


“You get the opportunity, if you are in a bad place, to get out of that bad place and meet people who have been there and maybe experienced the same thing and help you through that as well,” Govier said.


The Semper Fi Fund started seven years ago. It is a nonprofit organization that helps injured Marines and sailors, or other military personnel who were wounded in support of Marine or Naval operations.


To date, it has raised more than $50 million to help wounded military service members pay their mortgages, modify their homes and provide financial assistance where needed.


The fund is not only for military personnel wounded in combat but also for veterans and active military who are injured in civilian accidents or may face life-threatening illness.


Team Semper Fi is the sports extension of the Semper Fi Fund. It started with one Marine’s desire to run a marathon on one leg.


Now, more than 220 injured military service members compete in athletic events across the country through the rehabilitative sports program offered through the Semper Fi Fund.


Two dozen athletes from Team Semper Fi are competing in the Endeavor Games at the University of Central Oklahoma. Sunday is the final day of competition.


“At first I was kind of leery of it (Team Semper Fi) because I was not hurt in combat, so I felt like I wasn’t worthy,” said Joey King, a Marine veteran from Green Bay, Wis., who was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 2008.


“I am taking full advantage of it now. I went and fought for my country and now I am getting paid back.”


King, 28, said Team Semper Fi has helped him “find other ways to do things.” He competed in archery at the Endeavor Games but has cycled and competed in other sports at other Paralympic events.


“It helps me immensely going to these competitions because I see how everybody else does,” he said. “I used to shoot archery before my injury. I was a big whitetail deer hunter in Wisconsin. I am looking at this to get me back into shooting.”


The Semper Fi Fund pays for gear, coaches, travel and entry fees for Team Semper Fi athletes.


“In essence, they can be a professional athlete and get everything funded for them to go and actually push themselves to do whatever sport they want to do,” said Paul Fitzgerald, Team Semper Fi’s High Performance Manager, who also works as a consultant with the U.S. Paralympic Team.


Without the financial assistance, it would be impossible for most disabled military veterans to participate, said T.J. Pemberton of Edmond, 43, a Marine veteran and member of the U.S. Paralympic Archery National Team.


“A normal person on their disabled pay would have to do fund raisers just to go to one or two events,” said Pemberton, who was crippled in a hunting accident in 2003 when he drove his four-wheeler off the side of a mountain.


“We probably hit 10 or 15 events a year. Without Team Semper Fi, the Marine Corps fund and those kind of organizations, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”


Govier, 32, said he needed an incentive after his combat injuries to get his life on track again. Competing in athletic events has provided that.


“To be totally honest, I needed a push. I needed something to get back out there,” said the Boscobeo, Wis., resident.


“The Marine Corps has always been a brotherhood. Team Semper Fi understands that and brings us even closer together by letting us go back and compete again.


“There is an old saying, ‘You never leave a Marine behind.’ After you are retired from the Marine Corps, these events here, you get to meet new Marines. In doing that, we help each other out.”


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