Iraq, Afghanistan Combat Wounded Participate in Wheelchair Games
(July 22, 2009)
July 16, 2009 -
Retired Army Staff Sgt. John Bennett, disabled by a sniper's bullet in Iraq, calls the National Veterans Wheelchair Games an opportunity to rekindle the competitive spirit he thought he'd lost.
Photo courtesy of VA
||WASHINGTON, July 16, 2009
– When Army Staff Sgt. John Bennett got shot by
a sniper in Iraq in February 2005, his dreams of
competition crumbled along with three vertebrae.
Looking back over that day in Hawijah, Iraq, the
Montana Army National Guardsman feared he'd lost
far more than a kidney, his spleen, colon, half
of his pancreas and use of his legs.
“I was really worried about how my injuries
would affect my life,” he said.
Three years ago, just 11 months after leaving
the hospital, Bennett put those concerns to rest
when he attended his first National Veterans
Wheelchair Games in Anchorage, Alaska. By the
time the competition had finished, he'd earned
two gold medals, in basketball and the 100-meter
wheelchair race, as well as a bronze in bowling.
“I was really ecstatic that I could still get
out there and compete,” he said. “It gave me a
chance to prove to myself that I could still do
Now back at the 29th National Veterans
Wheelchair Games in Spokane, Wash., Bennett is
helping to show other disabled
veterans that they can do it,
He's among more than 500 disabled
veterans, about half of them wounded in Iraq and
Afghanistan. “A ton of them are novices,” he said, meaning
first-timers to the wheelchair games participating in their
first sporting event since becoming disabled. |
The event is the world's largest annual wheelchair sports
competition, bringing together veterans with spinal cord
injuries, amputations or other mobility or neurological
conditions to compete in 17 different events.
They've fanned out to venues across the city to compete in
track, swimming, field, basketball, weightlifting, softball,
quad rugby, air guns, nine-ball, bowling, table tennis,
archery, hand cycling, trapshooting, a motorized rally,
power soccer and wheelchair slalom, a timed obstacle course.
Others are participating in a golf clinic.
“It's fabulous to see this many disabled veterans out here
competing,” Bennett said. “It's just incredible to see the
number of people who come out and do this.”
July 16, 2009 -
Steve McGuire, a now-retired Navy petty officer second class disabled by a motorcycle accident after returning from an Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment, said the National Veterans Wheelchair Games give him an opportunity to share with and learn from other disabled veterans. Photo courtesy of VA
Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran participating
for the second time is Steve McGuire, who was
medically retired as a Navy petty officer second
class after a motorcycle accident landed him in
McGuire was just back from a deployment to the
Gulf aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt when the July
2006 accident left him with multiple fractures
to his spine and ribs. He spent 10 days in the
hospital, then more than five months in
As he was recovering, McGuire said he realized
his future rested largely in his own hands. “I
couldn't afford to not get moving and get my
life moving,” he said.
So he got into adaptive competition, joining the
“East Coast Cripplers,” Virginia's only
wheelchair rugby team.
“It gave me confidence, knowing that even though
I was disabled, I was still able,” he said.
Last summer, McGuire attended his first National
Veterans Wheelchair Games in Omaha, Neb. He
netted a gold medal in basketball and two
silvers: in the novice category for archery and
for coaching the second-place rugby team.
Like Bennett, he's back for more this year
in Spokane. He's part of a rugby team slated to compete in
the gold-medal match today, and he's got bowling and archery
competitions in the days ahead. |
But equally exciting, he said, is the opportunity to bond
with other disabled veterans, particularly those just
learning to live with their disabilities. A peer counselor
at his home Veterans Affairs clinic, McGuire uses himself as
an example as he helps them look beyond perceived
“I definitely feel that I have gained more than I have
lost,” he said of his own disability. “I've gained
perspective in life and learned to appreciate things I took
for granted. I'm more motivated. Instead of just doing what
I had to do, I'm striving to go beyond that.”
McGuire praised the National Veterans Wheelchair Games as
the perfect experience to help veterans help each other
build self-confidence as they rehabilitate together. “It's a
huge experience,” he said.
Among the mentors at this year's games is Russell Braun, a
70-year-old Air Force veteran participating in his eighth
“The games give the newly injured veterans the knowledge
that they can do more than sit around the house,” Braun
said. “It gives them self confidence and incentive, and
really opens up their lives a lot more.”
As VA Secretary Eric Shinseki noted during the games'
opening day July 13, the event enriches onlookers, too.
“These games are not only great for the athletes, they're
even better for us as spectators,” he said as he helped tip
off a demonstration basketball match that got the games
Bennett, who coaches girls' basketball and regularly cheers
on his own family during their athletic events, said it was
a treat to be in center court rather than on the sidelines.
“It's great for them to be able to see dad compete and get
out there and do something to test his skills against
everyone else,” he said.
The games will continue through July 18, followed by an
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are co-sponsored by
the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of
America, with financial assistance from corporate, civic and
veterans service organizations.
In addition to the wheelchair games, the VA co-sponsors
three other national rehabilitative events: the National
Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, the National
Veterans Golden Age Games and the National Veterans Creative
Last fall, the VA hosted a new summer sports clinic pilot
program that introduces water and adventure sports such as
sailing, surfing, kayaking, cycling, and track-and-field
events to recently injured veterans.
National Veterans Wheelchair Games will be held in Denver in early July.
American Forces Press Service
Forces Press Service / DoD
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