Veterans, family members, VA staff and volunteers gathered in beautiful San Diego on Sunday, Sept. 17 to kick off the 10th annual National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. More than 120 veterans from all over the nation have come together to participate in a week of rehabilitation, camaraderie, sportsmanship and fun. This year’s theme, “setting a positive course for the future,” exemplifies the intent of VA’s adaptive sports program – to provide opportunities for disabled Veterans to find or expand upon their abilities. The energy level and excitement from the opening ceremony crowd, amplified by the San Diego Marine Band, set a positive course for the upcoming week.
This week, Veterans will work with some of the best adaptive sports therapists and rehabilitation professionals in the country to enhance and compliment their existing rehabilitation programs. More than 300 volunteers and VA staff are on site throughout San Diego to assist Veterans with adaptive archery, surfing, sailing, kayaking, and cycling.
Veterans are divided into 10 teams and represented them well at Sunday’s opening ceremony. Wearing their distinct team colors, each team of Veterans and coaches were presented with a guidon donning the name and color they represent this week. Each team accepted their guidon with a rally cry and will carry it with pride as they complete each of the week’s events.
Leif Nelson, VA’s director of the National Veterans Sports Program, gave a warm welcome to this year’s participants, volunteers, and sponsors. He talked about the excitement and nervousness that is ever-present before these games and the confidence and satisfaction gained by being a part of them.
“Sports will make you breathe, sports will make you sweat, sports will get you out in the community where you live, sports will help you smile, and sports are what has brought us all here today,” Nelson said.
Among the Veteran participants, coaches, staff, and volunteers are a group of Summer Sports Clinic ambassadors. These Veterans have been here before…they know what it’s like to be anxious, nervous, and excited about trying out something new and challenging. They have participated in the clinic before and are here to encourage and mentor some of the new veterans that are trying some of these adaptive sports for the first time. One ambassador explained, “I used to ask what now; now I ask what next?”
William “Bud” McLeroy is a local Veteran that didn’t have far to travel for these games, but is excited to participate and to support other Veterans.
“When you are paralyzed you can get lost,” McLeroy explained. “But these clinics get people out, away from the house and worth something again. Gives you a sense of worth in life.”
For all of our Veteran participants, this is just the beginning of an exciting and exhilarating week in San Diego.
About the author: Jessica Baxter is a public affairs specialist with VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in Los Angeles.