By Hans Petersen
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
It’s time for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. This year, in Dallas.
The Games are presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors.
VA North Texas Health Care System (VANTHCS) is hosting the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) in and around Dallas from June 21 through June 26.
Benefits to the Mind
The purpose of the NVWG is to provide Veterans with physical disabilities an introductory experience to a variety of wheelchair sports, and expose them to the numerous organized wheelchair sports and recreation activities available nationwide.
The Games serve to encourage Veterans to become aware of their abilities and potential while promoting a spirit of healthy activity and camaraderie.
Benefits to the Body
The NVWG clearly demonstrate the therapeutic value of sports and competition. As presenters of the event, PVA and VA are committed to improving the quality of life for Veterans with disabilities and fostering better health through sports competition.
While past Games have produced a number of national and world-class champions, most importantly, the event provides an opportunity for newly-injured Veterans to gain the knowledge and experience necessary for active lifestyles at home “free” from the perceived confines of their wheelchair.
Benefits to the Spirit
Since the Wheelchair Games began in 1981, thousands of disabled Veterans have enjoyed the health benefits provided by sports participation and have revitalized the spirit of competition within themselves. Veterans new to the Games realize quickly that they are part of a large and supportive community and through these relationships are encouraged to go further than they think they can.
Began After World War II
The NVWG are an outgrowth of VA’s historic involvement in wheelchair sports. Wheelchair sports had their beginning in the aftermath of World War II, when young disabled Veterans began playing wheelchair basketball in VA hospitals throughout the United States. Interest in wheelchair basketball soon spread to other sports such as track and field, bowling, swimming, and archery, spawning the formation of several associations devoted to new and innovative wheelchair sports.
While the participation of paralyzed and other disabled Veterans continued to flourish during the intervening years, it was not until 1980, when VA established a Recreation Therapy Service, that VA’s efforts brought about an enhanced awareness of the rehabilitative value of wheelchair athletics. Since then, VA therapists have used wheelchair sports as a therapeutic tool for treating Veterans with disabilities.
The first National Veterans Wheelchair Games was held in 1981, the “International Year of Disabled Persons,” at the VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. That year, 74 veterans from 14 states competed in sports ranging from table tennis and billiards, to swimming and weightlifting. Over the next 35 years, the event has grown to be the largest annual rehabilitation and wheelchair sports program in the world.
Strong Sense of Common Identity and Camaraderie
Those first Games established an enduring trait that has characterized the event ever since, a strong sense of common identity and camaraderie among the participants. The hundreds of Veterans who choose to compete in the games each year demonstrate their continuing popularity.
In 1987, 12 British military Veterans were invited to participate in the Games and a team from Great Britain has come every year since. After that first year, the British athletes formed a new disabled sports group, The British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports Association. This group extended the philosophy behind the NVWG to the rest of the world, hosting International Veterans Wheelchair Games in Great Britain in 1994, 1996, and 1999.
At the Games, Veterans compete in:
- Air Guns
- Field Events
- Motor Rally Power Soccer
- Quad Rugby
- Table Tennis
Thanks to Our Volunteers
To accommodate the needs of the athletes, more than 3,000 local volunteers are required to assist with all aspects of the Games, from helping with transportation, event setup, water distribution, assistance with meals, and numerous other activities that will help guarantee a successful event.