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With VA Adaptive Sports, life has become a joy

Runner on the beach

Veteran Laura Ortiz
“With VA Adaptive Sports, life has become a joy.”
2017 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Veteran Laura Ortiz gets her strength and purpose from three words: faith, humility and service. Those three motivating ideals will be on full display this week at the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego.

“I feel so lucky and blessed to be here. Sometimes we just need a little push. I think once you try adaptive sports it becomes a motivator to challenging yourself. These clinics are great and we all need to keep supporting them.”

The Summer Sports Clinic offers adventure sports and recreational activities such as sailing, surfing, track and field events, kayaking and cycling (hand and tandem), to those who were recently injured.

Complimenting the therapy provided in daily rehabilitation programs, the clinic shares a glimpse of the many exciting recreational opportunities awaiting those Veterans who accept the challenge. With the variety of water and summer sports available at the clinic, this week-long journey hosts Veterans from all over the country who have a variety of injuries, ranging from traumatic brain injury and polytrauma, to spinal cord injury or loss of limb.

Its fundamental purpose is to provide early intervention for Veterans battling back from injury, not only strengthening their bodies but overcoming and improving their overall being and self-worth.


Veteran Rodney Blanton

Veteran Rodney Blanton says he died twice on the operating table, but somehow was able to pull through. After 12 days in a coma, Rodney woke up to the realization that his left leg had been amputated.

“I wasn’t about to give up,” the Houston native said, “so I kept walking to try to get back in shape.”

At the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, he met recreational therapist Jessica Dawson. She introduced him to the Paralympic Sports Club in Houston, and Rodney never looked back.

At the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, Jessica can’t help but be proud of his accomplishments.

“These clinics are great and we need to keep supporting them.”

She yelled out encouragement from La Jolla Beach as Rodney tried surfing for the first time. He waves and beams back a smile. Rodney had found a new sport to be excited about.

“She pushed me to try new things, and now I’m here.”

This year 130 Veterans, 94 who are first-time participants, will try their hand at sports they might have considered impossible before the event.

For Theotis D. Smith, Marine Corps and Army Veteran, the chance to represent the Veterans and employees of the Edward Hines VA Medical Center at the clinic is the culmination of his rehabilitation journey.

“I’m extremely happy to be given this chance,” Smith said. “Before working with VA Adaptive Sports, I was just at home looking at four walls and depressed. Now my life has become a joy. I want to try every program VA offers.”

When asked what event he was most excited about, the Chicago native said he couldn’t wait to go out sailing.

“I got to sail a few times in Chicago,” he said. “I have 10-inch rods running up and down my back, so when I got out on the water and looked at what God created for us – all of my pain goes away.”