David Fowler Posthumously Receives Spirit of the Games Award

David and Marilou Fowler

David and Marilou Fowler

David Abbot Fowler was a native Texan. He loved being outdoors, he played soccer at Houston’s Sharptown High School in the 1970s, and he took a job in construction after high school. In 1983 he joined the Army, where he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and participated in the U.S. invasion of Grenada. A 1984 diving accident resulted in a high cervical injury that left him paralyzed from his shoulders down.

Suddenly, David found himself on a journey he had never envisioned—as a quadriplegic looking at life from a completely different viewpoint. Although at first he was hesitant to attend the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), it gave him a new attitude.

A few years ago he recalled, “For six-and-a-half years I sat at home thinking there wasn’t a lot I could do.” He then learned how to bowl from a wheelchair, and at his first NVWG, David won his first gold medal.

It occurred to him: “If I can do this, what else can I do?” And he spread that message year after year to other veterans at the NVWG.

For more than 20 years, David competed in numerous events including power soccer, slalom, wheelchair races and power relay events, using a sip and puff to drive his power chair.

His famous nickname was born from competition as well. NWVG founder Tom Brown remembers, “David was coming around a turn during a race and we were cheering him on; then I started yelling, “Blow, David, Blow! Blow, David, Blow!”

Others joined in as David raced on; but he thought he heard his fans cheering, “Go, David, Go! Go, David, Go!”

As he got closer and realized what the crowd was actually cheering, ”He began laughing so hard he couldn’t blow and so his chair stopped during the race,” Tom recalled. Forever after, David became known as Puff Daddy, even adopting the moniker as his email address.

Year after year, as David returned to the Games as a member of the Texas Blasters, his legacy grew. He did not miss a competition in 20 years. His wife, Marilou, whom he married in 1995, was his constant companion, caregiver and fellow advocate for other injured Veterans.

At the Games this year, Marilou said that she is here to continue her husband’s legacy. ”He loved the Games,” she said. ”He loved Paralyzed Veterans of America and being involved and helping other people. I’m just happy to continue what he started. He inspired so many people; not just the athletes from Texas but from all over.”

In 2008, David received special recognition for his achievements in adaptive sports: he was one of just 12 gold medal winners from the National Veterans Wheelchair Games to be featured on Cheerios boxes through an agreement with the Veterans Canteen Service and the General Mills Corp.

Richard Hoover, editor of PVA’s Sports ’N Spokes magazine, opined that some people have an ”indescribable ’thing’ that sets them apart from their peers by listening to how people speak, what they speak about and how they carry themselves when not speaking. David had that ’thing.’ ”

Said PVA Sports Director Ernie Butler, ”David Fowler, more than anyone, understood and embraced everything about sports and recreation, because he saw how it affected his life psychologically and physically after his injury. He never backed down from a challenge. He went hunting, fishing, skiing and still always had time to be a mentor to other Veterans with high-level injuries. He was an inspiration to all.”

For his dedication to the NVWG, his mentorship, his advocacy for Veterans with disabilities of all his spirit—David Fowler was posthumously awarded the Spirit of the Games Award Friday, June 26, 2015, at the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Dallas.

The David Fowler Memorial Endowment has been set up through Paralyzed Veterans of America and will assist in educating clinicians about spinal cord injury, researching better care, and assisting veterans with satisfying careers.

Beyond Our Borders: NVWG Leave Impact on South Korean Delegation

Korean delegation speaking with Paralyzed Veterans of America leadership

Delegates from South Korea speak with Paralyzed Veterans of America Associate Executive Director Sherman Gillums at the NVWG.

The impact of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) is being felt far beyond the borders of the United States – where our nation’s allies are caring for military Veterans recovering from spinal cord injuries and other disabilities.

Each year since 2009, a delegation from South Korea has visited the Games in hopes of implementing a similar recreational therapy event for military Veterans of its own country. Now six years in the making, the delegation will return to Korea this week with a plan to officially launch a wheelchair games program for its military Veterans.

“Each year, the Korean delegation comes to the Games with a requirement that they come back to their country with an idea that can be implemented for their Veterans,” said NVWG Medical Director Dr. Ken Lee, who emigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1975. “Launching their first wheelchair games is groundbreaking for them, and they said it was all learned from our program.”

Lee said that a Korean delegation also has been part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, an annual program that spotlights four creative arts therapies of art, music, dance and drama. The Koreans already have taken that idea and this November will launch the first-ever creative arts festival for Korean Veterans, Lee said.

“Their participation in seeing how we treat our disabled Veterans here in the United States has been a fantastic experience for them because it’s a different culture back in Korea,” Lee said.

Sherman Gillums, Jr., deputy executive director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, praised the South Korean government’s interest in how American culture honors its military and pays homage to Veterans.

“Members of the South Korean delegation expressed their admiration for disabled Veterans, particularly those who don’t let a wheelchair color the definition of strength,” Gillums said. “I was personally humbled by their respect for our progress in creating a society that respects and supports paralyzed veterans.”

In addition to the emphasis on sports recreation and creative arts therapies, the Koreans also have learned a wealth of knowledge from the VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America about the importance of dedicated spinal cord injury (SCI) centers for Veterans with paralysis and spinal cord diseases. That impact has resulted in the construction of two SCI centers in Korea dedicated to Korean Veterans, Lee said.

“It’s amazing when you think about the impact both Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA have internationally,” Lee said. “It’s evidence that we’re doing the right things.”

The NVWG are co-presented by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brittany Ballenstedt is a military spouse, freelance journalist and photographer in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Toyota Sponsors National Veterans Wheelchair Games for 16th Consecutive Year

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                              
June 22, 2015    
Contact: Lani Poblete
202-416-7667

WASHINGTON, DC—Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are proud to recognize Toyota as a Sustaining Host sponsor for the 35TH National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). Toyota will also be providing a fleet of complimentary vehicles wrapped and branded with Toyota and NVWG logos for official staff use throughout the week. More than 600 veterans are expected to compete in this year’s Games, with events like track and field, softball, and basketball beginning June 22 in Dallas, Texas and continuing through June 26.

“On behalf of the more than 33,000 team members here in the U.S., Toyota is very proud of its 16-year relationship with the Paralyzed Veterans of America,” said Simon Nagata, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, Toyota Motor North America, Inc.  “It is truly an honor and a privilege for Toyota to once again be a sustaining sponsor of the 35th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games and support the many brave men and women who serve our country and defend our freedom.”

“Toyota’s involvement with an event as important as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is extremely gratifying and meaningful,” said Mark Oldenburg, Toyota National Fleet Marketing, Mobility and Strategic Planning Manager.   “The privilege of witnessing the courageous veteran athletes who participate in the ‘Wheelchair Games’ is a very humbling experience.  For it showcases the true meaning of the human spirit, as every athlete in the ‘Games’ is an American hero and thus, a champion.  To say Toyota is very grateful to play a sponsor role in the success of the Games is an understatement.”

This year marks the 16th year that Toyota will sponsor the National Veterans Wheelchair Games—the largest annual wheelchair multi-sports event in the world, now in its 35th year. Toyota serves as one of the event host sponsors for table tennis and track. Toyota will also serve as sponsor of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games Wall of Appreciation. The Wall of Appreciation is a large message board on display during the entire week of the Games where Veteran athletes, family members, volunteers and anyone passing through are invited to handwrite a message of thanks and support to the athletes.

“Toyota has once again stepped up to support our nation’s disabled veterans at this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games,” said Al Kovach, national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “We thank Toyota for their continued support of this important rehabilitative event and for their commitment to our veteran wheelchair athletes.”

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, presented annually by Paralyzed Veterans and VA, are open to all U.S. military veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition as a result of spinal cord injury, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments, and who receive care at VA medical facilities or military treatment centers.

“The National Veterans Wheelchair Games represents a significant commitment to the rehabilitation of our nations veterans and empowering them to live more healthy and active lives through sports and recreation. The partnership with our sponsors to fulfill our mission, especially American Airlines, helps us to reach out and support more of our nation’s heroes,” said David Tostenrude, director of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Veterans at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games will compete in 18 events: air guns, archery, basketball, boccia, bowling, handcycling, a motorized wheelchair rally, nine ball, power soccer, quad rugby, slalom, softball, swimming, table tennis, track and field, trapshooting and weightlifting. This year’s Games will also feature a rowing exhibition. Athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age.

For more information about the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, please visit www.wheelchairgames.org.

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About Paralyzed Veterans of America:

Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely to serving veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For nearly 70 years, Paralyzed Veterans has worked to ensure benefits, quality health care, accessibility, employment, and rehabilitative sports and recreation for veterans with disabilities. With more than 70 offices and 34 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. (www.pva.org)

About the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events is the recognized world leader in rehabilitative and recreational therapies for disabled Veterans. VA promotes the rehabilitation of body and spirit by operating adaptive sports clinics and competitions around the nation. Learn more about VA’s adaptive sports programs and partnerships at www.va.gov/adaptivesports.

About Toyota

Toyota (NYSE:TM), the world’s top automaker and creator of the Prius and the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, is committed to building vehicles for the way people live through our Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands.  Over the past 50 years, we’ve built more than 25 million cars and trucks in North America, where we operate 14 manufacturing plants (10 in the U.S.) and directly employ more than 42,000 people (more than 33,000 in the U.S.).  Our 1,800 North American dealerships (1,500 in the U.S.) sold more than 2.67 million cars and trucks (more than 2.35 million in the U.S.) in 2014 – and about 80 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold over the past 20 years are still on the road today. For more information about Toyota, visit www.toyotanewsroom.com.