When the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games arrive in Richmond June 25–30, it won’t just be the largest annual gathering of wheelchair athletes in the world. It will also be a homecoming.
“Richmond is where it all began,” says Steven Lowrie, executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Virginia Mid-Atlantic chapter. “We even have seven of the original athletes from the first Games 31 years ago competing in this one.”
The Games will officially kick off Monday morning, June 25, with a ceremony at the Capitol with Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and Paralyzed Veterans National President Bill Lawson. McGuire VA Medical Center, site of the original event back in 1981—the “International Year of Disabled Persons”—will again be the official host. The cosponsors are the Department of Veterans Affairs—the original organizer—and Paralyzed Veterans of America, which joined as a partner in 1985, bringing with it not just the power of its membership, but the contributions of participants in its corporate sponsor program.
This year’s Games, based primarily at the convention center, will offer 17 competitive categories, from archery to weightlifting. Many of the 620 competitors will be previous participants, but nearly a quarter of those attending will be first-timers, new to any organized wheelchair sports competition.
“Things have changed hugely,” Lowrie says, recalling that in the first year, 74 veterans from 14 states competed in just five categories.
Accessibility was the main reason it has taken more than three decades to bring the Games back to town. Richmond had been trying for years to attract the event, but there was doubt about the historic city’s ability to accommodate hundreds of wheelchair athletes, let alone the thousands expected to attend—many using wheelchairs themselves.
Fortunately, new and renovated hotels in the downtown area substantially increased their wheelchair-accessible rooms. This, plus the efforts of the Games’ organizers, who help transform regular rooms into accessible ones by having doors taken down, and durable medical equipment and other furnishing adjustments made, have ensured that all of Richmond’s larger downtown hotels will be involved in housing the athletes and their supporters.
“One of the reasons the Games were able to come back here,” Lowrie notes, “is that increase in accessible rooms. We have more than 600 people who use wheelchairs for sport, and need them for getting around. Without accessible accommodations on this scale, it would have been impossible.”
Learn more about the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games
While at the Games, use the hashtag #NVWG while on Twitter to share photos and stories as well as to see what others are saying.
Lee Fleming is a writer based in Washington, DC, whose articles appear in national publications and on the Web.