Four thousand six hundred fifty-seven miles, six time zones, two connecting flights and a shuttle bus ride to the Omni William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh.
That’s quite a trip. And it’s one that 62-year-old Army Veteran Eugene Gold made this year for the 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
“This is my 23rd Wheelchair Games,” said Gold, whose journey from Waialua, Hawaii, is the farthest an athlete has traveled for the event this year.
Although Gold said he competes in a few other events during the year, “the Wheelchair Games are a must. It’s our glory week. We want to show the world what we can do.”
For Gold, focusing on what he can do is the only way he knows how to live, in part because the Hawaii native grew up on the Oahu North Shore, a surfing Mecca that attracts the best surfers in the world.
“I’m a competitor,” said the Vietnam Veteran, who estimates he has won about 80 medals over the years. “I may be in a wheelchair, but you know what, I won’t let this get me down. I’m disabled, yes, but I’m still alive.”
Each year, a couple of months before the Games, Gold begins his training regimen and gets in shape. He participates in table tennis and billiards for fun, but archery is a skill that he takes very seriously, not only for the competition, but for the conditioning: He needs the upper body strength to be independent and perform everyday tasks on his own, such as getting into and out of a car or the bathroom.
Although competition has been a driving force in his life, Gold also enjoys rekindling old friendships at the Games and starting new ones, especially with the younger Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
“I say to them, ‘Don’t dally. Wake up each day and thank God you’re alive,’” Gold said. “I’ve been telling that to myself for the last 37 years and hope to for another 37 years.”
If that doesn’t work, he has another trick up his sleeve to win them over: He brings boxes of macadamia nuts, Hawaiian T-shirts and other trinkets from the islands.
James Theres, Public Affairs Specialist, Tomah (Wis.) VA Medical Center