Don and Patty Spragg live a few miles from Richmond in nearby Midlothian. Don worked the first National Veterans Wheelchair Games a year after he began working as a medical photographer for the old Richmond VA hospital. He retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs in December 2011 and is now back at the NVWG, this time as a volunteer photographer. Patty works the volunteer check-in room and is a fan in the stands.
“It’s a fun way for us to work together as a couple,” Patty said. “It’s inspiring.”
Don agreed. “It’s amazing to see what these people can do in a wheelchair,” he said. “It’s great talking to the athletes and hearing their stories.”
Some of the volunteers have pretty good stories, too. Curtis Sheffield is 90 years old. As a World War II Navy veteran whose amphibious unit helped clear the path for General George Patton’s troops, Sheffield has been volunteering for the local VA hospital since 1972. He said he’s also been a patient at that same hospital more times than he can remember.
Sheffield’s wife of 60 years died last year, and he said he tries to keep as busy as possible. Volunteering for the Games has been a good way to do just that and to share time with fellow veterans.
The massive job of organizing the corps of volunteers goes to Janelle Giles, the chairperson of the volunteer subcommittee for the NVWG. Giles said the volunteers come from service organizations, sponsors, the VA hospital and the community.
As of Tuesday morning, Giles said 3,361 volunteers had registered and more were trickling in. It takes such a force to make the Games flow smoothly.
“It’s a lot of work and can certainly be frustrating, but when you see these athletes competing and smiling and happy, then it makes me happy. That makes it all worthwhile.”
More about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.