Local, National Organizers Collaborate on 2016 National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Basketball game at the 2015 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in DallasEnthusiasm is running high for the 2016 National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) in Salt Lake City – with organizers on the local and national level coming together to make it another life-changing week for Veterans with disabilities.

The 36th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) – co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America – will feature the program’s signature 19 wheelchair sports and two exhibition sports for disabled Veterans June 27-July 2, 2016, in the scenic capital city of Utah.

“We are overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Salt Lake City community – the volunteers and sponsors who are coming out to support this event,” said David Tostenrude, Games director for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “The enthusiasm from the 2002 Winter Olympics is spilling over to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, and that will make the program all the more special.”

Tostenrude along with national representatives from the VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America – including Games founder and Paralyzed Veterans of America Games director Tom Brown – gathered in Salt Lake City in late April to work with local organizers for the 2016 Games.

The VA Salt Lake City Health Care System and the Mountain States Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America are effectively collaborating to ensure the Games offer top-notch venues, hotels, transportation and hospitality, Tostenrude said.

Several businesses in and around Salt Lake City also are ramping up support for the Games, going so far as letting employees off for a day or half-day to volunteer at the Games, Brown said.

“The Utah Transit Authority is bending over backwards not only to get the veterans to and from the venues in a timely manner, but also providing support for volunteers to get to the convention center,” Brown said.

The theme of the 2016 Games – Strive, Live, Conquer – will be evident in events and presentations throughout the week. Triathlon, offered in partnership with USA Paratriathlon, and bobsledding, a new Paralympic winter sport, will be featured as this year’s exhibition sports.

The Games will kick off on June 27, 2016, with the annual Disabled Sports, Recreation and Fitness Expo, a tradeshow of more than 50 sports and recreation organizations and companies that provide health, wellness and accessibility products.

Veterans, families and volunteers participating in the 2016 NVWG are encouraged to book travel and hotel arrangements as soon as possible. Hotel information can be found at this link.

“So many are showing support above and beyond to ensure the success of the 2016 Games,” Brown said. “We can’t wait.”

Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.

Registration Opens for 2016 National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Archery at the 2015 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Dallas, TX

An estimated 600 wheelchair athletes will arrive in Salt Lake City in June 2016 for the 36th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games – and many will notice a heightened effort to help them take their training and competition to the next level.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, will ring in its 36th year in the scenic capital city of Utah. Salt Lake City will build on its experience in hosting the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games by offering top-notch venues, hotels, transportation and hospitality.

“The hosting for the Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City has really carried over to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games,” said Tom Brown, director of the Games for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The same excitement, same attitudes and same drive is present as that of the Paralympic Games, and the Wheelchair Games will be another chance for making life better for the disabled and showing off what these disabled athletes can do.”

The 2016 Games will offer 19 wheelchair sports as well as two exhibition sports – triathlon – offered in partnership with USA Paratriathlon – and bobsledding, a new Paralympic winter sport. While triathlon is open to an unlimited number of Games participants, bobsledding will be limited to 50 participants who will be required to undergo an additional health screening.

The 2016 Games in the Beehive state also will be the first time the weightlifting event will be replaced with power lifting in an effort to match the national and Paralympic standards for the sport, said David Tostenrude, director of the Games for the VA. “We’re looking at opportunities with each of our events to really make sure it’s reflective of what’s available across the country,” he said.

The Games will kick off on June 27, 2016, with the annual Disabled Sports, Recreation and Fitness Expo, a tradeshow of more than 50 sports and recreation organizations and companies that provide health, wellness and accessibility products.

The day before (June 26) and the day of the Expo, the Games also will offer participants a chance to be classified in air rifles and/or participate in a table tennis, quad rugby or power lifting clinic. “We’re doing the weightlifting power press clinic to orient the competitors as to the difference between weightlifting and power lifting,” Tostenrude said.

World-renowned mountain climber and paraplegic Mark Wellman, most famous for his 3,000-foot climb of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park in 1989, also will be on-site throughout the week to set up a climbing wall and instruct athletes with varying levels of ability on climbing techniques. Wellman also will deliver a motivational talk to novice athletes.

Work is also underway to bring golf simulators to the Games Expo and events throughout the week, in hopes of spurring athletes’ interest in adaptive golf and long drive golf.

“Expo registration takes about an hour, but we can keep the athletes busy all day if they want to participate in the clinics,” Brown said.

Registration for the Games, which opens in early January and runs through April 15, 2016, also will be slightly different for athletes this year in that registration packets will no longer be mailed to athletes’ addresses. Instead, athletes can access the registration packet at wheelchairgames.org, where they can download and print the form, fill it out and mail it back in, Brown said.

“Our major goal for the Games is to move to online registration,” Brown said. “This will make the process quicker and easier for the Veterans. This year, the registration is available to be filled out online and next year it will be completely automated.”

Above all, wheelchair athletes this year will notice a small community feel in Salt Lake City, as well as a heightened effort by both Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA to help them take their competition to a higher level – not just the week of the Games but throughout the year, Brown and Tostenrude said.

“All of the Games are successful in their own way,” Brown said, “but if there’s one thing that stands out about Salt Lake City, it will probably be the volunteers and the way the community gives back and supports the Games.”

Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.

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.

VA Summer of Service: The 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Slalom at the 2014 National Veterans Wheelchair GamesVA staff, community volunteers answer the call to serve Veteran athletes

The 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) are coming to Dallas, Texas, this summer, June 21-26, 2015. This VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) co-presented event changes the lives hundreds of Veterans every single year and thousands of communities across the country. It is VA’s largest comprehensive rehabilitation program.

The backbone of this huge endeavor is a dedicated group of VA and PVA staff who have stood up and volunteered to ensure our nation’s wheelchair Veteran athletes experience a transformational rehabilitation program. The VA staff who make this program successful year after year represent the essence of what a Summer of Service is truly about.

For each Wheelchair Games, the planning time and preparation takes about two years. In addition to their full-time job responsibilities, the vice chairs of each Games organizational service line add so much more to their plate. They do so not because it is easy, but because they truly embody VA’s I CARE core values and believe in the mission of the Games.

Each of the vice chairs have anywhere between three to 11 subcommittees that focus on various aspects of the Games’ framework, which involve hundreds of VA staff and community volunteers. For example, more than 500 community volunteers are needed to support some areas of the Games’ operations.

With less than a month remaining until the opening ceremonies of the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, I am extremely proud to have served beside all the VA North Texas staff whose tireless efforts over the past two years will culminate in a successful and memorable event. The memories we create during the hot summer sizzle of Games week will be all worth it. Watching our Veterans — all courageous men and women — competing for their personal best will stay with VA staff and volunteers for many years to come. The camaraderie of the athletes will spill over and become our own back at VA North Texas. As a result, we will be a stronger team and make each day a positive health care experience for our Veterans.

Wheelchair Veteran athletes have served our country and have endured traumatic events. Some have spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, amputations and other neurological conditions. Involvement in the Games is one way we are living the VA Summer of Service, by being involved in something bigger than yourself so that others who have given so much can shine as bright as the Lone Star State on their journey to rehabilitation.

The local organizing committee is excited to embrace this year’s Summer of Service at the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games and look forward to a fun and inspiring week. For more information about the Games or how you can get involved, visit www.wheelchairgames.org.

Get inspired and get involved today!

About the author: Froy Garza is the vice chair for public affairs of the 35th National Veteran Wheelchair Games.

Adapted from the Dept of Veterans Affairs blog.

34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games Says Farewell to Philly, Hello to Dallas

closing ceremonies of 34th NVWGAfter a fantastic week of competition and camaraderie, the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games came to a close on Sunday night, Aug. 17.

The evening was highlighted by the announcement of Spirit of the Games Award winner Gabriel Diaz de Leon, who arrived on the stage while the theme from Rocky blasted through the Grand Hall of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Rarely at a loss for words, Diaz de Leon could barely come up with “This is amazing.”

Presented by Stuart Cohen of Invacare, which sponsored the Spirit of the Games Award, Diaz de Leon settled in nicely and said, “The Spirit of the Games encompasses each and every one of us today.” He thanked Paralyzed Veterans of America and all the recreational and physical therapists from the Department of Veterans Affairs who make sure the athletes get to the Games, and thanked his wife, as well.

The emcee, Ron Burke, host of SportsNet Central and a weekly Philadelphia Eagles roundtable show, introduced VIPs in attendance and thanked the sponosors of the 34th Games.

Temple University’s OwlCapella group performed the National Anthem and then Paralyzed Veterans Executive Director Homer Townsend offered thanks to all those who had made the event a success. He paid tribute to the athletes as well, recalling the adage, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” He praised the athletes’ dedication and reminded them that they teach by example.

Gary Devansky, interim director of VISN 4 since November, said he it was an honor to be at the Games to witness some of the week’s events and was extremely proud of the VA’s involvement, thanking the local Philadelphia organizing committee.

Devansky said gave credit to the VA’s adaptive sports program for helping empower veterans to improve their well-being and health. “It’s mission redefined,” he said. He closed by telling the record number of athletes at the Games to share the spirit and memories of the NVWG with others and encourage them to get involved.

The Games torch was passed to the director of VA North Texas Health Care System, Jeff Milligan, and president of Lone Star Paralyzed Veterans, Steven Ray, as Dallas will host the 35th Games. For the finale, athletes enjoyed a funny and poignant recap of the week in video prior to a closing banquet. A week enjoyed by all, expressed multiple times by “I can’t believe it’s over” and “See you in Dallas!”

Tim W. Jackson is a writer and editor in Weaverville, N.C.

The 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games Head to Dallas

Quad Rugby exhibition August 2014The 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) will be held in Dallas June 21-26, 2015!

Registration packets are now available for athletes at www.wheelchairgames.org/registration. Registration is due by April 15th – don’t delay getting yours turned in!

To volunteer in Dallas for the NVWG, please www.wheelchairgames.org/volunteers .

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are co-presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors.





Kids Take Center Stage at the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Philadelphia

Two veteran mentors and a child with disabilities at the 2014 NVWG Kids DayAs part of each National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), one morning is set aside as Kids Day, when local kids with disabilities can show up to be mentored in sports by NVWG athletes and have some fun with other children in a similar situation to their own. This year 14 kids participated in the event.

At the 2014 Games in Philadelphia, Dr. Ken Lee, who acts as the medical director for the NVWG, once again rocked the mic as emcee of the Friday event. Having dressed in the past as Mr. Incredible, Batman, Fred Flintstone, and a pirate, this year Lee was a “safari man,” complete with stuffed animals attached to him.

“I become a kid again,” Lee said of his participation in the event. “Well, more of a kid, maybe.” And Lee said that’s the point: To scream and yell and laugh a lot. He added that he loves to see parents and kids who came into the event quite tentative to leave with huge smiles on their faces.

Renee Chenault-Fattah joined Lee to emcee the 2014 Kids Day. Chenault-Fattah joined Philadelphia’s NBC10 in 1991 and anchors the news there weekdays at 4 and 6 p.m. Chenault-Fattah said she was honored to be part of the event. “I love kids,” said the mother of four, “and I care deeply about our veterans. So I definitely wanted to be part of an event combining the two.”

One of the participants this year was Jaden Brown, 13, who immediately started draining shots when he got on the basketball court. His mom, Jennifer Stitt, said that Jaden normally isn’t in a chair but instead uses a prosthetic leg, so this was a new experience for him. Brown was born with an underdeveloped leg, which had to be amputated when he was 3. He was fitted with a prosthetic and was walking soon thereafter.

Jaden, who is in a basketball league this summer, confirmed that basketball was his favorite sport. He plays shooting guard and occasionally point guard. He enjoyed softball, too, as he explained how far he drove a ball off the tee.

Maddie Jones showed real athletic skills, too. The 14-year-old with cerebral palsy said she plays wheelchair basketball and also skis, rows and has started karate. Her mom, Meg Jones, said Maddie was excited to check out Kids Day and the Games in general. She added that Maddie loved talking to the veterans, too, and hearing their stories.

The younger Jones said she wants to play sports through high school and would love to one day get a college scholarship to play sports. Always looking at new opportunities, she said she enjoyed slalom, a course of challenging obstacles for wheelchairs, because she didn’t know it existed. She also said she loved meeting some Paralympians while at the Games.

Shafiq Simpson, 8, said he enjoyed softball. His favorite part of the day was hitting homeruns. He did have one complaint: in his opinion, the day should have also featured table tennis.

Simpson’s mom, Sharmaine, said that they heard about the Games from Shafiq’s physical therapist. “This gives him a chance to participate with other kids,” Sharmaine said. “It shows him that he’s no different from other kids. It will get him more motivated. When he goes back home he cans say, ‘I played baseball. I played basketball.’”

Kids Day isn’t just for the kids, though. Former Marine and current NVWG athlete Joey Avellone said he looks forward to this morning of the Games each year. He said he was asked to be a mentor for Kids Day at the first Games he attended, which was in 2003. “I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said. “I always look ahead at the schedule to make sure I don’t have a conflict.”

Avellone, who helped lead the kids in the Pledge of Allegiance, said he was surprised at the number and determination of real young kids this year. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “They were getting through that slalom better than I could.”

Former Marine and current NVWG athlete Tai Cleveland also said that he loves Kids Day. This year was his fourth year to participate. Cleveland said he loves the chance to be a mentor and to encourage the kids.

Dr. Ken Lee said the event is a win-win. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to be with others who are like them and learn about adaptive sports and it’s a great opportunity for the veterans to be mentors,” he said. “It takes the veterans away from who they are in everyday life and really shows who they are as a person. It brings out the best in them.”

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Tim W. Jackson is a writer and editor in Weaverville, N.C.