Veterans compete in wheelchair games
July 13, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 13, 2009) -- A wide range of disabilities cannot stop more than 500 of America's wheelchair athletes, all U.S. military veterans, who are competing in the 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games being held July 13-18 in Spokane, Wash.
"President Obama recently said that caring for veterans and their families is a matter of honor as a nation," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "The National Veterans Wheelchair Games highlight our nation's commitment to our wounded heroes. The games also allow those veterans to teach us all the meaning of heroism, determination and comradeship."
The games are presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
"The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are the biggest annual wheelchair sports event in the world," said Randy L. Pleva Sr., national PVA president. "From quad rugby to handcycling, power soccer to wheelchair slalom, the games are an exciting combination of competition, camaraderie and courage."
At the games, veterans will compete in 17 different sports, including air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, handcycling, nine-ball, a motorized wheelchair relay, power soccer, quad rugby, softball, swimming, table tennis, track and field, trapshooting, weightlifting and wheelchair slalom.
For the third year, stand-up events will be held in archery and table tennis for athletes who have amputations and choose to compete using prosthetic devices instead of their wheelchairs.
Former Army Spc. David Dotson, of Henderson, Texas, is one of the 500 competitors in the games. He actually served in two services, four years in the Navy and then four years in the Army. He was part of the invasion force into Iraq in 2003.
"I went across the berm with the 3rd ID for the first time into Iraq," he said. "I've seen Scud missiles flying over and had to sleep in a gas mask and all that good stuff."
Dotson, now 32, left the Army in 2005 -- separated with a medical discharge related to back problems.
"I went back into the civilized world, doing a civilized job and living a civilized life -- I was just out having fun one day and that's when I had that accident."
It was in April 2008 that Dotson flipped the all-terrain vehicle he was riding and later found himself bound to a wheelchair.
"But since then I've come a long ways," Dotson said. "If I have got special braces on, I can get up with a walker and walk maybe 50 feet -- then I have to have my wheelchair again. But I'm on the road to recovery and I'm not giving up."
As part of the games, Dotson will participate in several individual events, including bowling, air guns, javelin and shot put. But from his experience with a similar event in February, the Winter Sports Clinic held in Snowmass, Aspen, Colo., he said the events are not about beating each other as much as they are about pushing yourself.
"It was great to compete," he said. "But we didn't really compete for who's the best. It was more of competing against yourself. To teach yourself that you can still get out there and do sports like skiing -- I never skied a day in my life before the injury, and I enjoyed it. It's not about who's won. It's the great feeling of being alive -- feeling normal."
After his injury, Dotson said he tried to get involved in activities, with the encouragement of his wife, who he said has been supporting him all along.
"She's supported me in everything I do and is a great inspiration to me," Dotson said. "Without her I don't think I would have got as far as I've gotten right now."
And participating in events like the Wheelchair Games in Spokane, or the Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen has proved therapeutic to him as well.
"I got involved in some of this stuff -- and the stuff you get out of this is just unreal," he said. "You feel alive, you meet people that have the same or similar problems to you. You get to compare notes and you get to inspire one another. You get a great deal of joy out of it, you feel alive. You don't feel hindered because everybody here has got similarities to you. So you kind of fit in a little bit."
The games are an annual multi-event sports-rehabilitation program open to U.S. military veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems and who receive care at VA medical facilities or military treatment centers.
The 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games began Monday with a wheelchair basketball demonstration in Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane, as well as the 2009 Disabled Sports, Recreation and Fitness Expo. Kids Day at the Games takes place July 17, at Spokane Falls Community College, where local children with disabilities will meet the athletes and learn about wheelchair sports. Track and field events, softball and archery will also take place at the college.
After the athletic events, of course, there is time for participants -- all veterans -- to hang out together socially.
Aca,!A"We'll get together and pop open a beer and talk about the good times and also talk about the bad times sometimes,Aca,!A? Dodson said. Aca,!A"When you get a bunch of military guys together you just have a good time. Everybody has something in common and they got something to talk about. And even if they have not participated in the war I was involved in, but other wars, like Vietnam, you can relate. There's similarities in a lot of areas."
(Kim Byers of Veterans Administration public affairs, Mark Daley of Paralyzed Veterans of America and C. Todd Lopez of Army News Service contributed to this story.)