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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

National Veterans Wheelchair Games Opening Remarks (Video)
Washington, DC
August 7, 2021

Hello everyone! I’m Denis McDonough, Secretary of VA, and I’m privileged to join President Biden in welcoming all of you to the 40th annual, National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Let me first say I’m in awe of every single one of the Veteran participants and competitors.

There is simply no group of people who know better than you what it means to serve.

Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t come together for the Wheelchair Games last year, and this year will be the first time we’ve ever had some participants on site in New York City and others participating from their homes across the country. We are all adapting!

I look forward to joining and meeting many of you in New York later this week. 

When Veteran-athletes engage in adaptive sports, you send a powerful message to spectators, sponsors, therapists, doctors, and other Veterans—to every American, in fact. That message is about the perseverance of Veterans and the endurance of the human spirit—and the strength of Americans, and, therefore, America.

You inspire me. You inspire us all.

The Wheelchair Games, and all our other National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, are characterized by the dedicated, strong people who participate, plan, and volunteer to create success.

At the Wheelchair Games, that tradition goes all the way back to 1981 and the first event in Richmond, Virginia. It is found in the values and inspiration of those who created this event, including a young a recreation therapist, wheelchair athlete, and VA employee—Tom Brown—and their idea to bring together a group of Veterans to compete against one another.

Tom, and other early organizers of these games, knew that Veterans never quit, even when the odds are against them.

They knew that injuries don’t mean you give up. They knew that younger Veterans could learn from older ones that disability doesn't mean that life ends; it just means that life takes a different road.They knew that Veterans persevere in the most difficult missions and challenging conditions.

And they knew that the same mental and physical grit that made all of you proud Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen is the same quality that makes you formidable athletes, despite your injuries.

Thousands of Veterans have been the beneficiaries of that vision, leadership, and dream.

I’m talking about Veterans like Will Groulx and Twila Adams.

Will is a Navy Veteran who entered his first Wheelchair Games in 2001 in New York City, the same year he was injured in a motorcycle accident. His participation in those games led him to wheelchair rugby, where he quickly became known as a world champion for his determination and skill.

An elite Paralympian, dominating wheelchair rugby and hand cycling, he will head to the Paralympics in Tokyo this month with hopes of repeating his medal winning performances in Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio. 

Oh, and did I mention he also competed in eight  annual World Championships, winning a total of 16 medals, leading to his competition as a Paralympian?

That he was nominated for an ESPY Award in 2009 as Best Male Athlete with a Disability? That he was named the U.S. Quad Rugby Association Athlete of the Year in 2010?A simply amazing career by a world class athlete. And it all started here.

Twila Adams is an Army Veteran who won the prestigious Spirit of the Games Award at our 2019  Wheelchair Games—an award bestowed on one wheelchair athlete among hundreds who best exemplifies the heart and soul of the Games through leadership, encouragement, and a never-give-up attitude.

“Without my injury, I never would have known about this stuff. I used to say my accident happened to me,” Twila said. But “at the Wheelchair Games I do shot put, discus, javelin, air rifle, air pistol, bowling, boccia ball, and power lifting. Now I say this did not happen to me, it happened for me. It changed my life.”

Twila views the games as that one time a year to connect with people who know what she’s going through. She says, “If we can inspire the novices and share a little bit of hope, then my injury is not in vain.”

That’s what these games are all about.

The victories of Will Groulx and Twila Adams require strong partnerships rooted in a common vision, shared values, and devotion to Veterans and their families. So, let me close by thanking the dedicated and devoted people who’ve made this week possible.

First, thanks to our co-presenters in these games, the good people of Paralyzed Veterans of America, Charles Brown, Carl Blake, Jen Purser, and all the PVA staff. Your partnership since 1985 has been instrumental and we look forward to continued success.

Next, to my VA colleagues—Dr. Joan McInerney, Martina Parauda, Dave Tostenrude, Jonathan Glasberg, and other local and national team members. And to all the VA doctors, rehab therapists, and other dedicated employees at medical centers and VA facilities across the Nation who help push Veterans past their comfort levels and enable them to be more independent and active in sports and fitness—this year, every year, and in future years. Thank you all.

And to our many sponsors and community partners, we could not do this without your support and encouragement.

Finally, and most importantly, I offer my personal thanks and gratitude to the spouses, parents, families, caregivers, and friends of our competitors. It takes a strong foundation and support system of love, care, and compassion to get here. You are that foundation.

Thank you all.

To the Veteran athletes—best wishes and good luck! I’ll see you later this week.

May God bless you, our troops, our Nation’s Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. And may we always give you our very best.