36 years old
If you’ve been to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, chances are you know 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. After 12 years of competing in the Games, Perez has become a shining example for other injured Veterans.
Perez is always looking out for fellow Veterans, from helping them compete to finding new ways to live life in a wheelchair. His steadfast desire to help others contributed to his selection as 2005 Spirit of the Games Award winner; an award which honors the competitor who best exemplifies athletic excellence, sportsmanship and good character.
Inspired by his experience as a mentor at the Games, Perez enrolled at Oklahoma State University where he’s currently studying to earn a degree in recreation therapy so that he can help guide other injured Veterans year-round.
When describing his favorite memories of the Wheelchair Games, Perez talks of serving as a mentor for Kids Day and how much it means for him to see the smiles on the faces of the children attending.
Though he clearly enjoys being a role model, he also relishes the competition. At the Games, Perez is perhaps best known for his skills on the basketball court, playing so fiercely he often falls out of his chair. In 2010, he won two gold and two silver medals in track, contributing to the large collection he’s amassed over the years.
"I enjoy the fact that the Games get better every year," said Perez. "You can see the level of competition and brotherhood grow with the newly injured soldiers returning from overseas, and I’m sure the event in Pittsburgh will be another great time."