Paralympic Program Director Chris Nowak
Veteran Christopher Nowak leads VA’s Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events.
Nowak, a former Marine who lost his right leg to friendly fire during a routine training exercise, previously served as prosthetics manager for VA.
“Adaptive sports give Veterans confidence not only in athletics but also in personal aspects of their lives,” Nowak said. “Our goal is to have the athletes continue applying the skills they learn in their communities.”
A passionate champion of sports rehabilitation for wounded soldiers and Veterans, Nowak developed golf clinics for amputees and helped organize an annual football skills clinic that connects newly returned Veterans with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“As a former member of the U.S. National Amputee Hockey Team, and being one of only two disabled Veterans on the team, I know firsthand how important adaptive sports are to disabled Veterans. It’s not just about becoming an elite athlete. It’s about the entire rehab process, both professional and personally. I encourage Vets to get involved, either as volunteer or as an athlete, and help our disabled Veterans rehab through adaptive sports.”
“Americans have a covenant to care for those who have served our nation with honor,” said Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“VA is proud to fulfill that covenant through our partnership with U.S. Paralympics, which gives injured Veterans an opportunity to rediscover their potential and redefine their capabilities. Too often, the world sees only their limitations — we know their potential. Disabled Veterans show us how to live life. Life for them is not just about winning or losing at sports events. It’s about the joy that comes from triumphing over adversity, and their triumph is the fight each and every day.”
VA Paralympic Program Lets Disabled Veterans Rediscover their Potential
The VA Paralympic Program is designed to motivate, encourage, and sustain participation and competition in adaptive sports among disabled Veterans and service members.
VA’s Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events works with VA staff, U.S. Paralympics, and community-based adaptive sports programs across the country to encourage disabled Veterans to redefine themselves by participating and competing in adaptive sports and creative arts.
The program provides information and resources to disabled Veterans, those in their support networks, and the adaptive sports community.
Veterans training in eligible adaptive sports can apply for a monthly assistance allowance through the Paralympics Program if they meet the qualifying military standard for that particular sport. A Veteran may be eligible whether his/her disability is service-related or non-service-related disability.
“Adaptive sports give Veterans confidence…in personal aspects of their lives.”
— Chris Nowak, Paralympic Program Director
In partnership with the U.S. Olympics Committee, VA provides grants to U.S. Paralympics member organizations, Paralympic Sports Clubs, and Veteran and military organizations nationwide to enhance and expand local community-based adaptive sports programs serving Veterans with physical, visual, or cognitive disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Veterans who participate in adaptive sports report less stress and reduced dependency on pain and depression medication. These disabled Vets also relate they have fewer secondary medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension, and experience higher achievement in education and employment and more independence.
Paralympic sports and adaptive sports are basically the same thing. Both “paralympic” and “adaptive” can be used when referring to recreational sports for those with a physical or visual disability.
The Paralympic Games is the second largest elite sports competition for people with a physical or visual disability and runs parallel to the Olympic Games.
The best way to learn about opportunities is to talk to your VA clinical team who can help you choose the right sport.
The U.S. Paralympics website also has a chart that will help you determine sports available to you based on your disability.
Veterans can participate in adaptive sports at any level for fun and recreation or to meet personal fitness goals. Those who are ready for the next level might consider training to become an elite athlete to possibly compete on the Paralympic level.
Financial assistance from VA may be available to you as a Veteran to offset the cost of equipment, participation and travel. The Veterans Health Administration also provides assistance through the Prosthetic & Sensory Aids Service program. To learn more about adaptive sports programs in your local community, talk to your VA clinical team or visit the Sports Club Finder.
There are six annual national programs for disabled Vets:
The National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic promotes rehabilitation of body and spirit by teaching summer sporting activities to Veterans with significant physical or psychological impairments. The clinic offers such sports as surfing, sailing, kayaking, track and field, and cycling to Veterans who are newly injured from amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other neurological disorders.
The National Disabled Veterans Winter Clinic promotes rehabilitation by instructing Veterans with disabilities in adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing and introducing them to a number of other adaptive recreational activities and sports. Participants include Veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, neurological challenges and visual impairments.
The National Veterans TEE Tournament uses a therapeutic format to promote rehabilitation, fellowship and camaraderie among participants. The TEE tournament also provides legally blind and eligible disabled Veterans an opportunity to develop new skills and strengthen their self-confidence through adaptive golf and bowling events.
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the largest annual wheelchair sports competition in the world. It promotes rehabilitation through rigorous competition in basketball, rugby, softball, handcycling and other sports. This event offers 17 different sports to Veterans who use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries, amputations and neurological diseases.
The National Creative Arts Festival is a competition that recognizes Veterans’ creative accomplishments. It is the culmination of talent competitions in art, creative writing, dance, drama and music for Veterans treated in the VA’s national health care system.
The National Veterans Golden Age Games is a national multi-event sports competition and recreational program designed to improve the quality of life for all older Veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. This adaptive rehabilitative sports program for Veterans age 55 and older offers 14 different sports and recreational activities.
“Many of our Veterans have experienced traumatic injuries while at the peak of their physical conditioning,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “Our partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee aids in their recovery by allowing them to engage in therapeutic sporting events and competition right in their own communities.”
To find adaptive sporting events in their communities, disabled Veterans can visit the U.S. Paralympics website.