Phil Rosenberg has competed in 31 of the 32 National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), only missing the first because he had final exams in college.
Rosenberg served in the Army from 1969 to 1972; he was injured in an auto accident in 1974. He went to school to get a counseling degree and used that degree for 30 years as an employee of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center before retiring last year.
At the NVWG, he continues to counsel the novices and younger people about dealing with life in a chair—when he’s not competing. The competition is what first brought him to the Games.
“I was competitive in sports before I was injured,” he said. “I was excited to get involved in the Games. It opened a whole world of opportunities for me. I learned a lot here. It helped me a lot.”
More mobile and more confident, Rosenberg said he then got angry that, especially as a veteran, there were places he couldn’t go and things he couldn’t see. So he got more involved with Paralyzed Veterans of America in Wisconsin. He said his work with Paralyzed Veterans and participation in the Games have given him an “I can do anything attitude. I might do it differently and it might take longer, but I can do whatever I used to do.”
He now enjoys imparting that same attitude to those with new injuries. “I try to help the younger guys,” he said. “You have to get over that fear of what it’s going to be like in public. When I was first injured, they (VA therapists and counselors) really encouraged us to do things. I think it’s good to get back in the community as quickly as possible.”
As much as Rosenberg loves guiding the younger guys, the competitive fire still burns in him. In the 2012 NVWG Rosenberg took home gold medals in trapshooting, table tennis, bowling and discus. Competing was the easy part. On Saturday night, Rosenberg was given the Spirit of the Games award for his exemplary competitive desire, sportsmanship and character.
“This is the hardest part of the Games,” Rosenberg said with tear-stained cheeks after accepting the award. Humble and thankful, Rosenberg offered thanks to many and a challenge to the group, especially those of the Vietnam era, to keep the Games going and be mentors to the newly injured.
More about the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.