By Hans Petersen
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Wheelchair Games are about Living Healthy Lives
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are presented each year by VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors.
The Salt Lake City Health Care System and PVA are hosting the 36th edition of the games in and around Salt Lake City June 27-July 2.
The games are a rehabilitation and wheelchair sports program empowering Veterans with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, amputations and other neurological injuries to live more active and healthy lives through wheelchair sports and recreation.
Each summer, Veterans from across the United States and a team from Great Britain travel to a new community hosting the games. During the week, Veterans compete in 18 wheelchair sports events while providing encouragement and mentoring for new Veterans. Veterans at the games educate newly disabled Veterans on what is possible and those witnessing the events realize that limitations are only state of mind.
Since 1985, PVA and VA have joined forces to work collaboratively to organize and execute the Games, enabling the strengths of both organizations to come together to make them one of the largest annual wheelchair sports programs and truly a world class event.
This is not just a one-week experience. VA Rehabilitation Programs and Paralyzed Veterans of America chapters across the country work to empower Veterans to be more active and healthy in their daily lives by getting them involved in sports and recreation programs highlighting fitness, social networking, and community involvement.
Sports and recreation reinforce critical values necessary for health while combating the risk of isolation, depression, and other factors associated with health. That is what the Games are about.
There are dozens of remarkable stories about the Veterans participating. Here is just one.
Family and Faith Helped Him Survive
by Jill Atwood
Public Affairs Officer
SLC VA Medical Center
Fifty years ago the United States was at war in Vietnam. In 1966 American Forces stationed in Vietnam reached 389,000 by the end of the year. More than 6,000 American troops were killed and 30,000 wounded in that year alone. On Jan. 30, 1968, the Tet Offensive kicked off one of the largest military campaigns of the war that launched a wave of surprise attacks across the country striking more than 100 towns and cities.
Mike Johnson joined the Marine Corps at the height of the Vietnam War. On Jan. 30, 1968, while out on patrol, one of the men in his unit triggered a booby trap. Mike lost both of his legs in that explosion and spent months in the hospital recovering. He earned two purple hearts and a bronze star.
His game plan: never quit.
Family and faith helped him survive his life-changing injuries. Mike is a father of eight. “I have a strong belief system. I think this is all temporary.” Mike stayed active and took up wheelchair basketball and track and field. His drive to be the best in any adaptive sport he tried eventually earned him an invitation to the 1976 Paralympic Games in Toronto. He took home four medals: a gold in table tennis and lawn bowling, a silver in the 100-meter dash, and a bronze in the javelin.
“I like to compete. I don’t like losing.”
This will be his 4th Wheelchair Games. “I still like it, I still like to compete and I am a terrible loser. I don’t like losing.” Today, while training is still a huge part of Mike’s life, his passion lies with teaching. He has been a coach and school teacher for 34 years.
His game plan: never quit. Events he will compete in at the Salt Lake City Games: hand-cycling, slalom, air rifle, table tennis and 9-ball.