Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center - Richmond, VA
Veterans Prep for National Wheelchair Games
Wheelchaired Veterans weaved between brightly colored cones, dipped low to avoid obstacles and overcame numerous hurdles as they raced on a custom-built slalom course at McGuire VA Medical Center.
The event, which was held July 11, was geared towards helping Veterans prepare for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
At McGuire, Veterans had two course options: a standard route geared toward motorized wheelchairs, and an advanced course for manual operated wheelchairs. Veterans had two days to practice before the timed event.
In the advanced course, participants navigated over various obstacles, such as ropes, bungee cords, and makeshift speed bumps.
“The hardest part was the bungee cord,” said Carolyn Andrews, an Army Veteran who completed her fourth slalom challenge. “My wheels kept getting caught, which made it difficult, but I’m doing my wheelies better.”
One obstacle on the standard course involved carrying an empty cooler past an “X” marked on the ground. The advanced course participants tossed tennis balls into a bucket and popped wheelies over small cones.
“It was fun, lots of fun,” said Air Force Veteran Kathleen Ivey. “I had a good time. It’s funny sometimes, the things you think you can and cannot do. It was definitely a challenge for me.”
As they raced against the clock participants tried to avoid penalties for directional mishaps, ball movement or displaced cones. Some obstacles required drivers to navigate backwards while others forced contestants to lower themselves to prevent movement of tennis balls dangling on a string above.
“Of course, I always want to win first place; that’s how I do,” said Marine Veteran William Lee, winner of the standard wheelchair course. “If I had my other wheelchair you would have really seen some stuff. I would be popping wheelies and such.”
Every second counted for Army Veteran Johnny “Quadzilla” Holland, who won the advanced course with less than a 2-second lead.
“It was fun,” Holland said. “For me it was tough. Going over that wooden [obstacle] was a challenge.”
Amina Chaudhry, an intern for recreational therapy, worked with the carpentry shop on many of the obstacles. The carpenter’s expertise ensured the obstacles had varying degrees of difficulty, were easy to store, and represented every branch of the military, said Chaudhry.
Chaudhry designed both slalom courses to fulfill requirements for her Master’s Degree in Recreational Therapy.
“I asked the other (recreational) therapists what they need,” Chaudhry said. “They asked for a slalom course to help the Veterans get ready for the wheel chair games, so that’s exactly what I did. It was fun to plan the course. I’m happy I’m leaving the internship with something they can use in the future.”
This year, 36 Veterans from the McGuire VAMC Adaptive Sports Program and Mid Atlantic Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) participated in the wheelchair games in Cincinnati Ohio July 17-22. Competing against Veterans across the nation the team won nearly 100 medals, more than half of which were gold.