TAMPA, Fla. - Many Florida Veterans who are wheelchair users have waited for years to participate in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games . This year, they get to compete in front of their family, friends and the people of Florida when the Games come to Tampa July 13-18, 2013. This is the second time the Games have been held in Florida; Miami hosted the Games in 1991.
With more than 600 Veterans expected to compete, the Wheelchair Games is the world’s largest annual multi-sport wheelchair event. Athletes come from across the United States, Great Britain and Puerto Rico, and include former servicemen and women who have served from World War II to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, from every branch of military service.
The Florida team is expected to have a formidable presence with athletes coming from across Tampa Bay plus Fort Myers, Orlando, Miami, West Palm Beach, Hollywood, Palm City, Rivera Beach, Homestead, Haines City, Odessa and several other areas.
There are 18 medal-awarding athletic events in the Games including handcycling, basketball, softball, weightlifting, track, field, swimming and quad rugby, just to name a few. Exhibition events include adaptive tennis and a first in Games’ history, adaptive water skiing. Sporting events will take place at the Tampa Convention Center, the Tampa Bay Times Forum and other Tampa area venues.
St. Petersburg resident and U.S. Army Veteran Laura Schwanger is excited about competing with fellow Veterans during the Tampa Games. After a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis ended her military career in 1982, she says competing in wheelchair sports surrounded by her peers introduced her to a whole new world of activity and ultimately, gave her the chance to redefine herself. “I thought, if they can do it, I can do it,” she said.
Schwanger fell in love with track and field. She competed in the Paralympic Games of 1988, 1992 and 1996.
Overall, she medaled in 11 events. Then in 2006, she was
diagnosed with yet another challenge: breast cancer, a disease that
left her weaker and more tired than ever before in her life. She
had read about how breast cancer survivors used rowing as a way to
regain strength and endurance, so as part of her rehabilitation,
she took up
rowing and this natural athlete rose to the top of her sport. In 2007 and 2008, she took gold at the U.S. Rowing National Championships. In 2008, she was a Paralympian once again in Beijing earning a bronze medal in rowing. The two medalists ahead of her were half her age.
During the 2013 Games, Schwanger will be competing in handcyling, softball, 9-ball and wheelchair slalom.
This role model sees herself as a mentor and cheerleader for other National Veteran Wheelchair Games athletes. “The Games are a chance for Veterans to get back into life,” Schwanger said. “They showed me I could compete again, have fun, smile again. And that’s what wheelchair sports can do for others just like me. I’m so looking forward to the Tampa Games.”
Admission to the Games is free and the public is invited to attend and cheer on all the athletes. Also, about 3,000 volunteers are needed the entire week of the Games. Volunteers can be as young as age 14 and will have a variety of duties including setting up equipment at sporting venues, serving meals, monitoring buses used to transport athletes to various locations, serving as ‘Fans in the Stands,’ and other tasks.
For a detailed event schedule and to download a volunteer registration form, visit the national website at www.wheelchairgames.va.gov
The Games are co-presented by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa and the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America are co-hosting the 2013 event locally.
Release courtesy of Karen Collins; James A. Haley Veterans Hospital.