Peg Holliday remembers every minute detail from those first wheelchair games in Richmond. The way she grins as she easily recalls thrills of greeting Veterans at the door to her VA 9-passenger bus and exciting moments of whisking them to their venues for competition is simply infectious.
Holliday confesses she began volunteering with Veterans in 1942, when the McGuire VA Medical Center resembled a temporary hospital ~ one-story buildings connected by a maze of hallways; far from the sprawling facility that serves more than 425,000 Veterans today.
“I was called to volunteer and I loved it from the beginning,” Holliday said. “Life is about helping others and doing for others. These Veterans have never given up and I just couldn’t wait to get back to see them when I found out the games were coming home!”
The Richmond native became part of the wheelchair games when she agreed to volunteer as a bus driver, or “runner,” in 1981. Back then, her mode of transportation was a scooped out RV with simple tie downs that required minimal work when it came to loading and unloading her spinal cord unit Veterans.
As a dedicated runner, she drove her beloved bus and family of Veterans from the airport, to the hotels and to all the events. She recalls the smiles on the Veterans’ faces as they approached her bus for those return rides and the stories they were bursting to share about their glorious successes and their agonies of defeat.
“I got to know them personally and it was so wonderful,” the 62-year-old laughed. “I am just as anxious to greet Veterans and their families, hear each and every story today as I was 32 years ago.”
This time around, Holliday is serving her Veterans as a Red Cross volunteer. Known in Veteran circles for her high energy and encouraging words, she stated that in three decades, some things have changed (like electric wheelchairs) but many have remained the same; especially when it comes to the Veterans’ determination to bring home the gold and catch up with friends they have met along the way.
“One thing for sure that hasn’t changed over the years is that these wonderful Veterans in wheelchairs always put life into perspective,” Holliday said. “Their smiles and laughter transcend the years and they never give up. These Veterans have made a choice to really live!”
The passionate Holliday concluded that it’s awesome the wheelchair games have grown from the 70 participants that first year to more than 600 men and women Veterans who travel from the corners of the country and beyond to take part in the tradition that encourages camaraderie. She said she will continue to be a part of it all as long as she can.
“They’ll have to take me out of here and away from these Veterans kicking and screaming,” Holliday said. “I love all these people; love volunteering and I love these Veterans. After all, that’s what it’s all about.”