Skip to Content
Learn what the PACT Act means for your VA benefits

Veteran finds strength through sports and music at the Atlanta VA

Owen Rogers competing in the discus throw.

After losing his wife of 55 years, one Veteran decided to take ownership of his health and wellbeing through music and sports. At 76, he is going strong with the help of his support groups.

Following the recent passing of his wife Gwendolyn of 55 years, Owen Rogers Jr. felt like life was over and he was having difficulties coping.

“My wife was it. She was everything. She was the force behind me. I met her in May of 1965 at the Royal Peacock in Atlanta. September of 1966, we got married,” said the now 76-year-old Owen.

Admitting he need help; Owen went to see recreation therapist Chauncy Rozier at the Atlanta VA Medical Center whom he knew from past inpatient care and wanted to get involved in something. Timing was good for the intervention because of the upcoming National Veteran Golden Age Games in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Rozier suggested he to try to attend.

Owen said, “They had been telling me to go for a few years. I wouldn’t. Chauncy is gold.”

During a week of competition at NVGAG, Veterans competed in 14 competitive sports, including air rifle, boccia, cornhole, disc golf, nine ball, pickleball, shuffleboard, table tennis, as well as track and field events.

Owen, an Army Veteran, began his strategy with the help of his family and Coach Rozier.

They created a workout regimen and plan to rebuild his strength and health. He trained with his daughter Tissilli Rogers-Wood and son-in-law Kendall Wood, in preparation for the events which would be good for him to compete. He reported how his training was going and what, if any, difficulties. He embraced a new edge on life through adaptive sports.

Coach Terry Davis, a former coach at Mays High School, also helped get Owen in shape.

"It doesn't take much for Mr. Rogers," said Davis. "He's an athlete and I've known his family for a long time. Owen is a good man and I am happy to support him."

“I have to have my support system to continue to be successful,” Owen shared.

Initially, Owen was placed on a waiting list by the NVGAG. Rozier wrote a special request letter for him to be accepted so he could ‘gain another leg on life’.

“I basically pleaded for this Veteran to have this opportunity and they heard it,” Rozier said.

He was accepted.

“His attendance meant so much to him as these games were on the dates of his final triumph with his wife to save her life, but to no avail. One of the dates we were present in Sioux Falls, SD, was the years’ anniversary for her passing,” shared Rozier.

According to the local event planners, nearly 400 Veteran athletes, ranging in age from 55 years to 90+, participated in the National Veterans Golden Age Games, which ended on July 23 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

To show support, Tissilli, Kendall and their other sister, Tammy Rogers-Cooke, flew out to be with him on his new efforts in life and it meant the world to him.

“My dad is a strong man. He is mentally tough,” said Tissilli. “I am honored to be able to serve my parents and am proud of my dad.”

It all paid off. During the NVGAG, Owen received the gold in 75+ boccia ball, a silver medal in boccia ball mixed doubles, a bronze in shuffleboard along with ribbons in discus, javelin, 1500mm Powerwalk and shot put.  In all, he partook in 6 events.               

Participation in adaptive sports has provided a new outlook on life for Owen yet something else is now playing a major role in his journey.     

Just before leaving Atlanta, Owen was a recipient of an electric guitar from the program known as Guitars 4 Vets. This was through the Community Development on Civic Engagement and Dr. Anthony Cooper.  

Guitars 4 Vets pursues its mission to share the healing power of music by providing free guitar instruction, a new acoustic guitar and a guitar accessory kit in a structured program run by volunteers, primarily through the Department of Veterans Affairs facilities according to their website.

The AVAHCS Recreation Therapy refers Veterans who express a desire to explore or re-explore their musical drive through musical interventions with guitar via G4Vets. Until the Covid-19 pandemic, Recreation Therapy provided weekly guitar lessons for all interested Veterans in the gymnasium.  

Rozier said, “He bought his guitar along and found time to make it over to the Sioux Falls VA and played for the Veterans and their families there.” 

“I told Dr. Cooper what I wanted to do. It makes me feel good,” shared Owen. “It is like medicine to me, and I do this in honor of my wife.”

He added he played in the emergency room.

No stranger to performing, while in Vietnam he sang on the ships for the soldiers.

Owen shared he has been getting treatment at the Atlanta VA since June of 1968. The facility had only been open 4 years when he first arrived.

“Dr. Joseph Bishop has treated me for 30 years. He is one of the best,” Owen admits. “All of the people who have helped me have been good. If they are not, I won’t stay with them.”

His advice to other Veterans concerning treatment at the Atlanta VA is quite simple.

“You need to talk to the Veterans. Most Veterans will tell you. Everything ain’t perfect but you can get everything you need.”

If you or someone you know seeks help, contact the Atlanta VA Healthcare Mental Health line at 404-321-6111 ext. 206026.

See all stories