More than 500 disabled U.S. military Veterans are competing at the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Philadelphia, Pa., through Aug. 17. The event not only promotes physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle, but also aims to help Veterans realize they can adapt and overcome any challenge.
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is a sports and rehabilitation program for military service Veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems.
The competition has been co-presented by the Veteran Affairs Adaptive Sports Program and Paralyzed Veterans of America since 1985. The yearly event enables a deep bond amongst the participants – they know exactly what the other is going through. This encourages lasting friendships and support networks.
Competitive events at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games include air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, field events, hand cycling, a motorized wheelchair rally, nine-ball, power soccer, quad rugby, slalom, softball, swimming, table tennis, track, trapshooting and weightlifting. Athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age.
The participants include athletes like Air Force Veteran Sean Johnson, who, after medaling in softball, basketball and shot put at his first games in 2013, aspires to represent the U.S. Paralympic team in 2016.
Past events have produced a number of national and world-class champion athletes. The games also provide newly disabled Veterans an opportunity to gain sports skills and meet peer wheelchair competitors.
The games end on Aug. 17, but the support does not. Many of the Veteran athletes will leave knowing there are many ways to compete and stay active throughout the year. Veterans can find adaptive sports opportunities year round in their hometowns by visiting VA’s Sports Club Finder. Organizations like Paralyzed Veterans of America will host 19 more sporting events in 2014 for Veterans with spinal cord injuries.
VA Adaptive Sports also has a training allowance that provides disabled Veterans, who are interested in becoming a Paralympic athlete, a monthly stipend to offset training costs.
Earlier this year, 18 Veterans competed at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, 16 of whom received the VA training stipend. With all of these opportunities available to disabled Veteran athletes, this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games theme “Philly: Where Heroes Make History” could be especially true.
How many future Paralympic medalists will get their start in Philly?