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Winning in Wheelchairs

Athletic wheelchair competition began 24 years ago. The
impetus for what eventually became known as the National
Veterans Wheelchair Games was the wheel chair sports
involvement for many years by the U.S. Veterans Affairs
department. After World War II ended, the disabled veterans
started to play basketball in their wheelchairs while they
recuperated in the various VA hospitals in the United
States. From its basketball start these wheelchair games
soon extended to swimming, archery, track and field, and
bowling. Several Non-profit organizations grew up around
this wheelchair sports enthusiasm.


Now veterans in wheelchairs participate in competition and
exhibitions in air guns, archery, basketball, weightlifting,
bowling, nine ball, motorized rallies, exhibition power
relay and trap shooting, quad rugby, two slaloms, power
chair 220 (one division for hand controls, one for head and
mouth control), softball, hand cycling, swimming, track and
table tennis. Veterans with disabilities including paralysis
continued to use their wheelchairs to participate in sport
in increasing numbers. In 1980, finally, the Veterans
Administration set up its recreation therapy services, which
focused on making people aware of how wheelchair athletics
helped rehabilitation. Now therapists at the VA use
wheelchair sports as a tool for therapeutic treatment of
these disabled veterans.

Wheelchair bound veterans must qualify to compete in the
National Veterans Wheelchair games and for this they must
have a medical exam. This exam determines where they belong
in the competition, making sure they are competing with
veterans of similar level of disability and that no one has
an unfair advantage. Quadriplegic veterans fall into one of
three categories, while paraplegics fall into one of four.
Amputees are categorized by the degree of their amputation,
and stroke or MS victims are also categorized by impairment
level. 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons, was
also the year of the first National Veterans Wheelchair
Games. Richmond Virginia hosted the first games, held at the
Veterans medical center. There were 74 participants
competing in their wheelchairs in weightlifting, billiards,
table tennis and swimming. They came from 14 different
states to compete. They found camaraderie and common bonds
with each other. Now hundreds of these disabled veterans
take part in each year's games.

By 1985 the wheelchair games had grown in size drastically,
becoming more complex and taxing the resources of the
medical centers that hosted them. To help assuage this
problem the Paralyzed Veterans of America became the sponsor
of these wheelchair games. Money was needed and so the PVA
when to various corporations asking them to also co sponsor
the event. Since that time these sponsorships have helped
grow the games, with more competitors as well as more sports
variety. British disabled military veterans joined the games
in 1987 and participate each year. From this sprang up a new
association, the British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports
Association. It now hosts International games for veterans
in wheelchairs and has had competition in the UK in 1994,
1996 and 1999.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, now with more than
500 competitors from nearly every state and Puerto Rico, has
the honor of being the largest sports competition in the
world for wheelchair bound athletes. In 2004 St. Louis
Missouri played host to the event, while the following year
Minneapolis had the honor. This year it's Anchorage Alaska's
VA medical center that is getting ready to host the 2006
games July 3rd through 8th. Volunteers are being sought, as
more than 2000 folks are needed to hand out water, keep
scoring and time, help transport and fix food, set up the
various game sites and take photos. Volunteer applicants can
fill out an online form to express interest. The PVA and VA
both make these wheelchair games a priority commitment
because they realize the rehabilitative properties of the
sporting event.

Val Towley
is the owner of Wheelchairs Net which is an excellent place to find wheelchairs links, resources
and articles. For more information on this article,
please visit: http://www.wheelchairsnet.com/



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