Warrior Games profile: Ultimate Champion
By Story by Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons, Air Force Wounded Warrior Program
/ Published June 04, 2018
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, CO, UNITED STATES -- The duo could not be more different: Maj. Stacie Shafran, a public affairs officer; retired Senior Airman Rafael Morfinenciso, a health services management troop.
And yet, the two are now on the same road at this year’s Warrior Games - with sights set on claiming the title of Ultimate Champion; a feat which would mark the sixth consecutive year Team Air Force has claimed the title.
To earn the title, athletes participating in these adaptive sport games must compete in their respective disability classifications across eight events: archery, cycling, powerlifting, rowing, shot put, shooting, swimming and track. Each branch is allotted two slots, one male and one female, with branches also earning points based upon designated competitors’ results in their events. The athlete who garners the most points across all eight events is awarded the title of Ultimate Champion.
How does it feel to be identified as the male and female athletes representing the Air Force to compete for this title?
Shafran: It fells awesome; both humbling and exciting. This is a testament to how much I have grown with my training and comes as a total surprise – it was unexpected.
Morfinenciso: I am also very humbled to be given the chance to represent Team Air Force; I just want to get out there and give it my all.
Do either of you feel added pressure being that this would be the sixth year in a row that the Air Force could take this title? Especially being here at the academy and having the Air Force hosting this year’s competition?
Shafran: I do not feel any extra pressure; we are competing against some amazing athletes and I am just happy to have the opportunity to do the best I can.
Morfinenciso: Like Stacie said, I am not feeling any added pressure; that will only psych you out. We are here to grow and get better… in the end, we are all family.
What have you been doing to prepare mentally and physically for this year’s games, knowing that you would be going for this title?
Shafran: When coach (Kallie) reached out asked if I was interested and willing to train for all events, we both modified our schedules to meet the physical requirements for competition; I focused on cardio and strength training and worked with coaches across different sports to perfect my performance. It has taken a lot of time and dedication before work, during lunch breaks and over weekends; Rafael and I are both taking this seriously.
Morfinenciso: For me, I focused on those sports I was unfamiliar with. I familiarized myself with the rules, talked to coaches to arm myself with knowledge on how to perform well and dedicated time to build strength so I could be my most competitive.
Has the team been providing you both with any sort of added support or encouragement since the announcement that you would be the designated athletes going for the title?
Shafran: Everyone is always encouraging with anything we do, so there is zero negativity. Something special we have had has been weekly teleconferences between myself, Rafael and the coaches to talk strategies, and it has been nice to have the AFW2 (Air Force Wounded Warrior Program) staff be so engaged and keep us mentally focused and strong. Rafael and I are fortunate to have a strong friendship; we have been each other’s good luck charm while we competed last year together, so I am happy to be in this together with him.
Morfinenciso: I feel the coaches and staff are dialed in enough to not exhaust us and keep us primed for competition; I appreciate Stacie’s friendship and support and have benefited from being on the same training schedule, so we really feel like this has been a joint venture.
What will it mean to either of you, when that moment comes, and you can take home the title for the Air Force on our “home turf?”
Shafran: The focus for us is that we are here part of this team; every day is a success and another milestone for each of us. Whatever happens, we are okay with it because regardless we are already successful.
Morfinenciso: It would be nice to claim it on “our turf;” we are both competitive and driven, and winning would be awesome, but at end of day just being chosen to compete for the title means we have come a long way in our journey toward recovery and I am just thrilled to doing this with one of my best friends.