Vets Roll In to Richmond for “The Games”
Some Appealing, Wheeling Heroes
2011 Spirit of the Games Winner — Jerry "Bull" Baylor did everything right on the motorcycle. The Marine Veteran was wearing a helmet and looked both ways before the light turned green. He was only going five miles per hour when he was hit by a car with faulty brakes.
Just Call Him Coach — Paul Welty, a teacher at Shaler Area Middle School in Glenshaw, Pa., decided to volunteer for the Games — a decision that unexpectedly catapulted him from volunteer to coach.
2011 Rosenberg Award — Tony Johnson was ready to give up on life when his leg was amputated after an accident a few years ago.
Dynamic Duos — Heroes forge special bonds on and off the playing field.
Frequent Flyer — A trip of 4,657 miles, six time zones, two connecting flights and a shuttle bus ride to the Omni William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh.
A Super Senior — Doris Merrill doesn’t feel old. The two gold and two silver medals she racked up during the 30th National Veterans Wheelchair Games last summer prove she’s far from slowing down.
Alabama to Wyoming — Holly Koester has made amazing personal achievements since participating in her first wheelchair sports event in 1991, including becoming the first wheelchair track star to complete a marathon in all 50 states.
Jim Milliken — Jim Milliken, a longtime participant in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, is a dedicated athlete who has learned through years of experience that training is the key to success.
Orlando Perez — Everyone at the games knows the name Orlando Perez. Perez, a paraplegic, was injured when he was 19, while serving in the Army. He began competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games at age 24, in 1999.
Still Loving Life — Anthony Radetic loved to live life on the edge. He drove a sports car, served in the Army as a Blackhawk Helicopter pilot and was a dedicated Special Forces soldier. After a motor vehicle accident cost him the use of his legs, Radetic had to find new ways to live the fast-paced life he had grown accustomed to.
“When I see everyone, my heart just jumps.”
That’s how Navy Veteran and athlete Doris Merrill, 87, feels when she gets to the Games.
“The Games” are the National Veterans Wheelchair Games
It’s a multi-event sports and rehabilitation program for military service Veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems.
Read Doris’ story and other dramatic anecdotes in the sidebar to this article.
Attracting more than 500 athletes each year, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world.
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This year, the event will be held in Richmond, Va., from June 25 to 30.
The presenters of this event are committed to improving the quality of life for Veterans with disabilities and fostering better health through sports competition.
The majority of participants have a spinal cord injury requiring that they use wheelchairs most or all of the time. These include paraplegic and quadriplegic athletes. Many of the athletes use manual wheelchairs. However, a large number of the quadriplegic athletes use motorized (power) wheelchairs. Other reasons for wheelchair use include lower extremity amputations (single or bilateral), neurological diseases or injuries such as multiple sclerosis or strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and other disabilities.
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.
Typically, one-quarter of the competitors have never participated in any type of organized wheelchair sports competition.
The Games are presented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, with financial assistance from corporate, civic and Veteran service organizations.
The event this year is being hosted by Hunter Holmes McGuire (Richmond) VA Medical Center.
There are 17 different competitive sports, plus a variety of exhibition or demonstration sports that vary each year.
Competitive events at the 2012 National Veterans Wheelchair Games include:
Athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age.