Attracting more than 500 participants each year, the 2014 National Veterans Wheelchair Games takes place Aug. 12-17 in the heart of Philadelphia, a city culturally diverse and rich in history. Some of the greatest wheelchair athletes in the world will have an opportunity to make a little history of their own.
Mike Savicki was training to become a Navy F-14 pilot when he suffered a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia. In 1991, after eight months of rehabilitation, he entered his first National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Twenty-four years later, Savicki is still competing.
Austin Burchard, U.S. Army Specialist, said, “Tennis is fun and helps with agility.” He has competed in several Wheelchair Games after undergoing extensive recovery and rehabilitation from serious injuries caused by a gunshot wound while on duty in a gun turret in Afghanistan.
Liberty lives in the city of brotherly love, and now its the city where heroes will make history.
Freedom, physical exercise, exhilaration
At the very first adaptive water skiing exhibition event in the history of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, U.S. Army Veteran Margaret Mitchell, 62, described it as, “An absolutely thrilling experience. I wasn’t nervous at all.”
“It’s awesome, fun and it gives us purpose,” said Navy Veteran and handcyclist David Nelson. “We are competitive, but at the same time we take care of each other during the event.” Nelson has been competing in the event for six years.
And it’s not just about the Veterans who win the events. The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are also about those heroes who overcome adversity and embrace challenge. When 51-year-old Army Veteran Tracey Minter was the last cyclist to reach the turn-around point and was asked if she wanted to stop, her reply was, “I’m not going to quit,” and she meant it. She pushed herself and made it to the finish line smiling the whole way.
With a reputation as a serious sports town, the athletes will feel right at home in Philadelphia and fans will turn out to cheer them onto victory as they go for the gold, silver and bronze.
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is an annual event sponsored by VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America. More than 500 Veterans compete in 17 sporting events to include basketball, handcycling and rugby.
The event 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.
Attracting more than 500 athletes each year, it’s the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world.
The presenters of this event are committed to improving the quality of life for Veterans with disabilities and fostering better health through sports competition. While past games have produced a number of national and world-class champions, the games also provide opportunities for newly-disabled Veterans to gain sports skills and be exposed to other wheelchair athletes.
Competitive events at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games include air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, field events, handcycling, 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 Philadelphia VA Medical Center is the host for the 2014 Games.
Hans Petersen is an Air Force Veteran, and is currently a writer and editor for the Veterans Health Administration. In the past, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria, a radio talk show host, and won a PBS Emmy for his One Man Show as “Tom Paine” on KUED-TV in Utah.