WASHINGTON – More than 20 veterans injured during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan will join some 600 other disabled veterans next week for the 27th National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
The games, sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, will run from Tuesday to June 23 at venues throughout the Milwaukee area.
The games are open to all U.S. military veterans under VA care who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments.
Participants will compete in 17 competitive events, including track and field, swimming, basketball, weightlifting, softball, air guns, quad rugby, pool, bowling, table tennis, archery, handcycling, wheelchair slalom, power soccer, and a motorized rally.
Two exhibition events, trapshooting and wheelchair curling, are new to this year’s agenda. Also new this year will be a demonstration track-and-field clinic for athletes able to stand using prosthetic devices.
Aubrey Youngs, a 26-year-old paraplegic who was injured during a deployment to Afghanistan with her Indiana Army National Guard unit, will be among this year’s participants.
Youngs made her debut at the games in 2006 and is returning this year to compete in archery, table tennis and pool events.
“I am ready to go for the gold in 2007,” she said. “I have been practicing archery for months, but table tennis is my game!”
She called the camaraderie she found at the games as important as the competition.
“It is so nice to get together with people who don’t judge you for being in that chair,” she said. “It is great to have an opportunity to do normal activities that are often not available to those of us in wheelchairs.”
Also competing for his second year will be Jeff Snover, an Army chief warrant officer who suffered a severe spinal cord injury just three months after returning from Iraq.
Snover said he plans to top his performance at last year’s games, where he won gold medals in table tennis and weightlifting and a silver medal in softball. Ultimately, he said, he’s set his sights on the 2012 Paralympics.
Like Youngs, Snover said he gained a lot at last year’s games through camaraderie with his fellow athletes.
“I appreciated the assistance I got from other veterans when I was a novice, and I hope to return the favor this year,” he said.
Former UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief Darrell Lawrence will be a first-timer at this year’s wheelchair games. Lawrence was rendered a paraplegic after his unit returned from Iraq and was transferring from Fort Campbell, Ky., to Hunter Army Airfield, in Georgia.
He said he’s determined to work through and around his limitations as he competes in air gun shooting, wheelchair slalom, handcycling and two swimming events. “I have always tried to do my best at anything I commit to,” he said.
Lawrence said he encouraged through his association with other disabled veterans and by watching what they’ve been able to achieve. “It is 100 percent motivating and uplifting,” he said.
Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson, who will open the games June 19, praised the games as an opportunity for disabled veterans to share in the camaraderie of friendly competition.
“The determination, stamina and competitive spirit on display at the games are an inspiration,” Nicholson said.