Educational Questions & Answers

Winning in Wheelchairs

Athlete games and events of competition or exhibition for those in wheelchairs is now in its 24th year. These National Veterans Wheelchair Games grew out of an historic wheelchair sports involvement of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Sports with participants in wheelchairs started when the Second World War ended, when veterans young and disabled started to play basketball in their wheelchairs while they recovered in VA hospitals all over the country. Sports in wheelchairs soon went beyond basketball to track and field, swimming, archery, and bowling. A number of associations for wheelchair sports sprouted.

Now veterans in wheelchairs participate in competition and exhibitions in air guns, archery, basketball, weightlifting, bowling, nine ball, motorized rallies, exhibition power relay and trap shooting, quad rugby, two slaloms, power chair 220 (one division for hand controls, one for head and mouth control), softball, hand cycling, swimming, track and table tennis. Veterans with disabilities including paralysis continued to use their wheelchairs to participate in sport in increasing numbers. In 1980, finally, the Veterans Administration set up its recreation therapy services, which focused on making people aware of how wheelchair athletics helped rehabilitation. Now therapists at the VA use wheelchair sports as a tool for therapeutic treatment of these disabled veterans.

To compete in any of these sports with their wheelchairs, these athletes have to qualify and be placed competitively with others whose disability degrees are similar. Each is given a medical exam for this purpose. Three quadriplegic classifications emerge, as well as four paraplegic classifications. Amputees get divided up by the degree of their amputation. Victims of stroke, multiple sclerosis and other such disabilities are also classified according to their impairment level. 1981 debuted the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. The year became known as the "International Year of Disabled Persons. The first event took place in Richmond Virginia at the city's VA medical center. 74 disabled veterans brought their wheelchairs from 14 states to compete in such sports as billiards, table tennis, weightlifting and swimming. What this initiated among those who participated was the strength of camaraderie and having something in common. Hundreds of disabled veterans now compete in the Games every year.

By 1985 the wheelchair games had grown in size drastically, becoming more complex and taxing the resources of the medical centers that hosted them. To help assuage this problem the Paralyzed Veterans of America became the sponsor of these wheelchair games. Money was needed and so the PVA when to various corporations asking them to also co sponsor the event. Since that time these sponsorships have helped grow the games, with more competitors as well as more sports variety. British disabled military veterans joined the games in 1987 and participate each year. From this sprang up a new association, the British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports Association. It now hosts International games for veterans in wheelchairs and has had competition in the UK in 1994, 1996 and 1999.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games has turned into the largest sports event for wheelchairs held annually anywhere on the globe. More than 500 wheelchair-bound veterans come from 46 states to take part. They come from Puerto Rico and the UK as well. St. Louis Missouri hosted the games in 2004, Minneapolis Minnesota in 2005 and Anchorage Alaska will host this year. As part of the 2006 games competition organizers seek 2000 or more volunteers. These helpers will help with transportation and meals, set up the sites of the games, keep score and times, take pictures and hand out water. If interested in volunteering for the games July 3rd through 8th you can apply online. Both the Veterans Administration and the PVA stay committed to these wheelchair games and their rehabilitating effect on our disabled veterans.

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Winning in Wheelchairs