Army Combat-Wounded Veteran of the Vietnam War
64 years old
South Bend, Indiana
Jim Milliken, a longtime participant in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, is a dedicated athlete who has learned through years of experience that training is the key to success.
Each year, Milliken heads to his local pool, nearly every day, to swim so that he stays in shape for the Games. In the past six years, his training has paid off as Milliken has placed first in each of his swimming events. Milliken says he plans to continue that tradition for a long time.
Winning is a goal for many wheelchair athletes who compete in the Games, and Milliken has certainly reached the top of his sport. In 1988, he was selected to be a part of the Paralympic swim team in Seoul, Korea. Milliken also competes as a member of a YMCA swim team, often against able-bodied people nearly half his age.
Milliken's story is one of true triumph. While honorably serving his country, he was badly injured by a landmine while on patrol in Vietnam. Despite immediate surgery, doctors were unable to save his legs. He left the service as a double amputee, but through the rehabilitation of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, he gained back his spirit and drive to enjoy life to the fullest.
"The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are a wonderful opportunity for injured Veterans to get active again," Milliken said. For those who have competed before, it is a chance to enjoy the spirit of the Games and see old friends. If you can do this, then you can do anything. Meeting this challenge will help you down the road of life."
Army Combat Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom
32 years old
Before being injured, Anthony Radetic loved to live life on the edge. He drove a sports car, served in the Army as a Blackhawk Helicopter pilot and was a dedicated Special Forces soldier. After a motor vehicle accident cost him the use of his legs, Radetic had to find new ways to live the fast-paced life he had grown accustom to.
While receiving care the Tampa VA Medical Center, Radetic was encouraged by staff to look into attending some of VA's National Rehabilitative Special Events.
In 2009, he attended the National Veterans Wheelchair Games for the first time, as well as the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. His experiences competing in the world of adaptive sports lit a spark for Radetic and he learned how to enjoy living an active lifestyle like he did before his injury. He also signed up with the PVA Racing Team, and now has a couple of handcycle races under his belt.
One of the proudest moments for Radetic was serving as a mentor for "Kids Day" at the 2010 Games in Denver. Radetic, who has a little girl of his own, loves inspiring children with disabilities to get involved with adaptive sports.
Radetic always looks forward to connecting with fellow Veterans he has met in the past couple years and the 2011 Games in Pittsburgh will give him the chance to do just that.
"This event means a lot to me, it's something I look forward to all year long," Radetic said. "It's a great social gathering for military veterans. Every soldier I know has a competitive spirit, a motivational drive to challenge themselves to reach and seize the moment; this is the place to do exactly that."
51 years old
Walton Hills, Ohio
Holly Koester has made amazing personal achievements since participating in her first wheelchair sports event in 1991, including becoming the first wheelchair track star to complete a marathon in all 50 states.
Koester was injured in a car accident in 1990, while on alert at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. She sustained injuries to her spinal cord and was discharged from the Army several months later.
Since transitioning into civilian life as a paraplegic, Koester has constantly pushed herself to greater feats and has not missed a year of competition at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games since she began.
In addition to her strong athletic drive, Koester also is very active in her community, both as the sports director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America Buckeye Chapter and as a substitute teacher in her local public school system.
As a special honor, Koester was one of 12 Veteran athletes chosen to be featured on Cheerios boxes in 2009. For this spirited wheelchair athlete, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games have opened up a whole new life, and she looks forward to finding new challenges at the 2011 Games in Pittsburgh.
"The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the best event any injured Veteran could attend no matter how long they've been injured," Koester said. "It builds skills, confidence and independence. From the Games I learned there is nothing I can't do."
36 years old
If you've been to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, chances are you know the name Orlando Perez.
Perez, a paraplegic, was injured when he was 19, while serving in the Army. He began competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games at age 24, in 1999.
After 12 years of competing in the Games, Perez has become a shining example for other injured Veterans.
Perez is always looking out for fellow Veterans, from helping them compete to finding new ways to live life in a wheelchair. His steadfast desire to help others contributed to his selection as 2005 Spirit of the Games Award winner; an award which honors the competitor who best exemplifies athletic excellence, sportsmanship and good character.
Inspired by his experience as a mentor at the Games, Perez enrolled at Oklahoma State University where he's currently studying to earn a degree in recreation therapy so that he can help guide other injured Veterans year-round.
When describing his favorite memories of the Wheelchair Games, Perez talks of serving as a mentor for Kids Day and how much it means for him to see the smiles on the faces of the children attending.
Though he clearly enjoys being a role model, he also relishes the competition. At the Games, Perez is perhaps best known for his skills on the basketball court, playing so fiercely he often falls out of his chair. In 2010, he won two gold and two silver medals in track, contributing to the large collection he's amassed over the years.
"I enjoy the fact that the Games get better every year," said Perez. "You can see the level of competition and brotherhood grow with the newly injured soldiers returning from overseas, and I'm sure the event in Pittsburgh will be another great time."