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Join Team Charleston at VA Golden Age Games

Rae Carlers competes in pickle ball at the 2018 National Veterans Golden Age Games. Photo provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Competition. Comradery. Courage. These are the three words that describe what you’ll find at the National Veterans Golden Age Games (NVGAG).

NVGAG is the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States, and the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors’ competition program designed to improve the quality of life for all older Veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. The event brings together Veterans age 55 and older from all over the country to engage in physical fitness in a competitive and encouraging environment.

With long term physical fitness in mind, Veterans compete in age-specific categories based on three divisions: ambulatory, wheelchair and visually impaired. There are nearly twenty different sports and games that Veterans can enter including: basketball, cycling, track, table tennis, pickleball, and golf – just to name a few.

“My goal, like most participants, is to bring home the gold,” said Rae Carlers, U.S. Air Force Veteran and Charleston VAMC patient. “If that doesn’t happen, it won’t be due to lack of preparation.”

Carlers attended her first NVGAG event last year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She returned to Charleston with a bronze in both badminton and pickleball doubles—an incredible showing for her first year competing. Carlers was so impressed by the event that she’s now working on recruiting a team of Veterans from Charleston VAMC to attend the 2019 NVGAG in Anchorage, Alaska.

“After getting to the Golden Age Games, we were lined up by state and I was the only person from South Carolina – not just from Charleston – I was the only representative from the entire state,” said Carlers. “I want us to have a larger showing!”

Rae wants Veterans to know that attending NVGAG is about more than competition.

“There was a group of Veterans I met at the Valor games that were also at the Golden Age Games,” said Carlers. “We ate meals together and met up throughout the event. There were even Veterans I had just met at the games who came to my events to cheer me on.”

In fact, there is a Veteran from Alabama that she just met at last year’s games and they’re going to team up and play doubles in pickle ball in Alaska.

“It’s nice to know that when I need something I can just look up these new friends in my Rolodex,” said Carlers.

Some Veteran athletes travel and compete well into their 90s – inspiring fellow Veterans with their courage to stay active and engaged.

Carlers recounts seeing a 95-year-old Veteran win the gold in table tennis for his age group. His granddaughters had flown in to watch him compete. She overheard the granddaughters saying “they just wanted to breathe the same air as him.”

“He was so inspirational and such a very good player, too,” said Carlers.

VA research and clinical experience verify that movement and exercise are particularly import­ant to the health, recovery and overall quality of life for older Veterans.

“My father passed when he was 97 and my mother will be 95 in March – so if I do the right thing, just based on genetics, I’m going to be here for a while,” said Carlers. “I need to be the best that I can – so that while I’m aging, I’m still able to have that quality of life.”

Registration for the 2019 NVGAG opens on Feb. 25, and is only open for a short two-week time frame, closing on March 8. But Veterans don’t have to wait until February to get their application together. Application information can be found on the NVGAG website. This event fills up fast, so preparing ahead of time is key.

The medical center will be holding a question and answer session Thursday, Jan. 31 at 11:30 a.m. in the VA’s main auditorium for interested Veterans.

To learn more about joining The Ralph H. Johnson VAMC Golden Age Games Team or to learn how you can make donations to Team Charleston, please contact vhachasports@va.gov or call (843) 789-7773.

Watch more about Carlers’ story here.

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