Ray Chrampanis knows all about exclusive ceremonies, and hopes to take part in some medal-award-winning festivities while competing in his first National Veterans Wheelchair Games this summer.
“I was one of seven from my AIT unit to be selected,” the then Virginia-based (1969-71) Chrampanis says of being assigned to serve as security for what he calls “upper echelon ceremonies,” at the White House, Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, the position, including serving as “watchman” over cannons performing traditional 21-gun salutes, was not all pomp and circumstance.
“We were the second line of security behind the Secret Service during the May Day Riots,” Chrampanis says of the May 3, 1971 attempt by Vietnam war protestors to shut down the government. “I can say I got to sleep two nights in the executive hallway.”
The Staten Island, N.Y. native went on to serve his city’s fire department while attending college there on the GI Bill. His life changed three years ago when, after assuming his tingling foot was simply asleep while in bed, both legs were numb when he tried to get up. Diagnosed with transverse myelitis, he is now paralyzed from the armpits down.
“It’s phenomenal what they can do,” Chrampanis said of spending the next year at the West Pal Beach VA Medical Center. “I’m an outgoing kind of guy, so I’ve gotten into the swimming program as much for the exercise as to be with other people.”
Chrampanis’ road to the Wheelchair Games began when his therapist got him on a hand cycle. “He said, ‘If you can do this, you can do a 3K, a 10K and play indoor bocce,’ Chrampanis says of the events in which he’ll be competing in Orlando, accompanied by “my beautiful wife and primary car-giver Cindy.” He also participated in bowling, noting: “I’ve never thrown a bowling ball from a wheelchair before, so that should be interesting.”