Spencer Tesanovich, captain and co–creator of the Team Defiant paintball organization, has some sage and simple advice for people taking part in his "Red Strike" excursion.
"Be hydrated, motivated and dedicated," he said. "Drive on and have fun, but play safe and fair. Come out and enjoy the sport and enjoy the camaraderie."
For 26 hours, area paintball players of nearly all ages and all levels of skill will have the opportunity to shoot and dodge at Hobart's Blast Camp Paintball. Starting at noon Aug. 25 and running through 2 p.m. Aug. 26, the venue will host "Red Strike," which honors veterans wounded in combat and gives them, along with their participating civilian counterparts, the chance to play on the field.
A veteran of the war in Iraq, the Texas–based Tesanovich created Team Defiant with his father, Steve Tesanovich, who was born in Gary and reared in Portage. Both longtime supporters of veterans causes, the seeds for what would become Team Strike were sewn during a conversation at a Houston Texan football game between Spencer Tesanovich and a wounded veteran, who voiced a desire to, one day, be able to participate in paintball.
Inspired, the Tesanoviches got into contact with Impact a Hero, a nationwide nonprofit organization which assists wounded veterans through a myriad of programs and events. Through Impact a Hero, the Tesanoviches and Team Defiant were able to procure stand-up track chairs, which allow for many disabled people to become mobile in both seated and upright positions.
"It's something tangible, where we can see the benefits and derive from them immediately when you're out there with these guys," Steve Tesanovich said of the chairs, which cost $15,000. "The key is to try and get more of (the handicapped veterans) to understand that they can get out to these sort of activities."
Last fall, Team Defiant held their first "Red Strike" paintball event and, this spring, hosted a paintball event for wounded veterans and their families, friends and supporters, in Joliet.
In addition to paintball, the Tesanoviches have created and hosted three–gun shoots and clay shoots for wounded veterans. A pre–event barbecue is scheduled for participants at Blast Camp at 7 p.m. Aug. 24.
"What we're doing is created an atmosphere which gives (the wounded veterans) an opportunity to get out and use these all–terrain chairs and spend a weekend with other soldiers and have that sense of camaraderie," Tesanovich said. "We created Team Defiant to get these guys out.
"We want to give them an evening of food on Friday and campfire if they can stay over. And then we get them out on the field to get them into the game, so they have a sense of belonging in it all."
The Tesanoviches found a kindred spirit in Virgil Frey, owner of Hobart's Blast Camp, to bring their "Strike" to the region.
Three years ago, Frey took over the paintball facility, a former missile base built in 1958 and decommissioned in 1972. Sitting on 21 acres, Blast Camp has been a hot spot for paintball players in and beyond the region since 1988.
Like the Tesanoviches, Frey is a staunch supporter of veterans' organizations and causes. In May, Frey and Blast Camp raised $11,000 in a benefit for Wounded Warriors.
Frey has an idea as to why many veterans gravitate to and seek out paintball as a means of sport and recreation.
"It's in these guys' blood," he said. "You talk to these guys and they are passionate about serving their country, but a lot of them really enjoyed the military and what they learned there and what they got from the military. So that they get to relive that with a group of friends and have some fun, I think, is great."
When it came to joining forces with Team Defiant, Frey said he was happy to offer his services and facility to the Tesanoviches.
"I love giving back to the veterans." He said. "It's about honoring the soldiers, those who have served, and trying to give them a good time. We're a very family oriented company and big into giving back to the community. But when it's wounded veterans, we always kick it up a notch.
"We have an affinity for helping out wounded veterans, and I love how passionate (Team Defiant) are about helping the wounded."
According to Frey, "Red Strike" has already proven to be a hit with paintball enthusiasts in and beyond the region.
"In social media and seeing the forums, we have people coming from Canada, from Texas, from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, all over the country," he said. "I think it's a great way to show off the area."
Nature Productions, a television production company that has produced shows such as "North American Safari," "The Bear Whisperer" and "Bowhunting Addition," is scheduled to join the paintballers at Blast Camp and film the "Red Strike" weekend.
"It's not that we have visions of grandeur, but (the head of film crew) said this could make for a really nice pilot and something that can go into the Military Channel," Tesanovich said. "(The show) will feature the soldiers and make people aware and hear of their stories."
And while Tesanovich is looking forward to coming back to his old stomping grounds, he hopes his inaugural region "Red Strike" inspires area individuals and organizations to carry the torch once the event concludes.
"What we hope to do is regionalize this. We hope that from this event, we'll have some people (in Northwest Indiana) saying 'tell us more about the Impact a Hero group' and also some companies who say 'we'll pay for this. We'll buy some of these chairs (for the field) so that they're always available for the soldiers.'"
"We want to expand the reach," he added. "We're trying to create something that's repeatable and transferrable."