Sports and Veterans with Disabilities
Davidson, Jennifer, The Exceptional Parent
One of the most moving photos I have ever seen was a collection of empty wheelchairs at the bottom of Colorado's ski slopes during the 2007 National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic (see photo at right). The picture so perfectly embodied the purpose behind adaptive sporting events in the military community--to provide veterans with spinal cord injuries, visual impairments, amputations, or other severe disabilities with experiences that teach them their quality of life need not be diminished, regardless of their disability.
The empty wheelchairs belonged to veterans who were busy whooshing down the slopes and snowmobiling over fresh powder with adaptive equipment. Each year, adaptive sporting events for veterans with disabilities, such as the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), attract hundreds of veteran athletes.
For the veterans, the events are about moving forward, overcoming challenges, and reaching out to others who understand what they are going through. And what makes these events so powerful, whether you're a participating veteran athlete or an observer, is that you're among hundreds of individuals who have experienced life-altering injuries and are participating as a testament to their spirit, courage, and determination to move forward.
Many of the athletes are newly injured veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, testing their athletic abilities and skills for the first time since their injury. Making the transition from an active military lifestyle to a wheelchair is a huge adjustment. But as veterans realize their capabilities at adaptive sports, such as scuba diving, skiing, and rock climbing at the Winter Sports Clinic, and quad rugby, basketball, and maneuvering obstacle courses at the Wheelchair Games, the sense of accomplishment serves as an inspiration to tackle their rehabilitation rehabilitation with new zest.
Last year at the NVWG, I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Winkler, an Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) veteran competing in the Wheelchair Games for the first time. Less than a year before, his hidden talent for throwing the shot put and discus were discovered at another adaptive sports clinic, the U. …