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Dynamic Duos

National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Heroes forge special bonds on and off the playing field

Mentor (n): a trusted counselor orguide; tutor, coach. Many athletes can point to a specific person, or several people, who first told them about the Games, urged them to participate and encouraged them to train and push themselves to do things they never imaginedpossible.

These individuals—call them mentors, friends, coaches—supply the kind of support that helps Veterans come out of their shell and perform what can be truly extraordinary feats. They tell them togive archery a try, despite that weak arm. To angle that javelin just a little bit differently on the next throw. Or even to take on the challenge of flying with a wheelchair for the first time.

Here are a few of these dynamic duos that you may see competing—one perhaps for the 10th time; the other, possibly for the first—throughout this week.

Gina Fraley (Army) and Octavia Mitchell (Army) | Illinois

Veterans Fina Fraley and Octavia Mitchell.

I sang at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival for years. Then I lost my voice. I was devastated and basically becoming a recluse. Octavia felt almost a necessity to pull me out….I have an enormous amount of trust in her not to steer me wrong and set me up for disappointment....I’ve got a friend to do this with me. We’re working together as a team.

Gina trains real, real hard. This week, I’m here to cheer her on, and she’ll be able to cheer me on. Whatever we go home with, we’re going to celebrate....When I look at the Veterans with disabilities, I see past that. So when somebody—like Gina—says, “I can’t,” I say, “Come on, give it a try!” We’ve come too far to give up.

John Novicki (Navy) and Todd Kemery (Marine)| Minnesota

Veterans John Novicki and Todd Kemery.

I think it’s paramount to have someone like Todd, I really do. He is like a bad penny. He kind of keeps coming around. If you don’t mention anything for a while, he’ll mention it…and he understands the trials and tribulations of a disease [multiple sclerosis] like mine in a way some of my other friends don’t.

John was a new guy to our PVA chapter, and we are always looking for guys to play rugby. He was receptive right away….When you’re new to a chair, your world has pretty much come to an end. Once I started to see the benefits of sports, it just became a natural thing to talk about to other people who are struggling. It’s great—very satisfying—to see somebody excel like John has.

Darrell Fisher (Air Force) and Centra “CeCe” Mazyck (Army) | South Carolina

Veterans Darrell Fisher and Centra Mazyck.

Cece knows a lot more than I do, so I sit back and let her explain things. She tells me, ‘You know you have to work at it.’ My attitude toward a lot of things is great now, especially because now I know there’s things out there for us. I try to tell a lot of the guys I see here in wheelchairs to pick up a sport. I’m climbing a ladder now….I hope to be a Paralympian one day.

When I met Darrell, he wasn’t active at all. I thought he had potential, so I just worked with him…. Then he went to the Wheelchair Games for the first time and fell in love with it. He has made tremendous [strides]. He’s more toned. His throwing technique has improved tremendously. Now we can critique each other, and we train together every day. I believed in Darrell, and that’s what we need to do with other Veterans… give them time and a listening ear.”

Ed Leeper (Air Force) and Tom Strang (Navy) | Pennsylvania

Veterans Ed Leeper and Tom Strang.

I’ve been in PVA for three years, and my health wasn’t right for the last two—or maybe my attitude wasn’t. This year was my chance. Tom has been helping me with air rifle. I know how to shoot, but precision shooting is different. It’s very intense. When you’re in a chair, it takes such effort to go out. Tom sets an example. There ought to be a medal for that. Having these opportunities… it’s a saving grace.

I told Ed about the Games being in Pittsburgh, not far from his home. I got him involved in an air guns seminar. He got to shooting, and then he went ahead and bought an air gun. Now, Ed’s going to see all these hundreds of people here at the Games. It’s an eye-opening experience. Helping other Veterans makes you strong. Once you get hooked, it’s really good for you—mentally, physically. It keeps me going.

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Paralyzed Veterans of America

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    (800) 424-8200, ext.752


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