More than 600 wheelchair athletes will travel to Tampa this weekend to kick off the 33rd Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which run July 13-18, 2013.
The Games, which started in Richmond, Va., in 1981 with just 74 athletes, have grown to include more than 600, a number that’s remained steady for the past 10 years, said Tom Brown, consultant and director for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
Under the theme “Seize the Day in Tampa Bay,” this year’s Games athletes will compete across 18 different events, ranging from individual sports like air guns, handcycling and field events, to team sports like basketball, power soccer and softball. This year’s games also will include two expositions – tennis and, for the first time, water skiing.
“One of the goals of the Games is to expose our veterans to things that either they’re not familiar with or thought they couldn’t do anymore,” Brown said. “It’s an energy builder for them, and a motivator to say, ‘if someone else can do it, I can do it, too.’”
The Games, which are copresented annually by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), allow veterans to showcase their strengths and potential through athletic competition with their peers, and to learn about the wide variety of activities that are available to help them live active, healthy lifestyles.
Tampa was awarded the Games two years ago, and a local organizing committee has since raised upwards of $150,000 to add its own flavor to the Games, Brown said. The City of Tampa is unique in that the convention center is situated right on Tampa Bay, and all of this year’s events will be clustered within a radius of just a couple of blocks, he added.
The Games also will include roughly 3,000 volunteers and bring a more than $3.7 million boost to Tampa’s economy.
It’s more than just this year’s location that makes the National Veterans Wheelchair Games unique, however; the event – which remains the largest annual wheelchair sporting event in the world – is consistently unique because of its disabled veteran athletes, who range in age from late teens to 90-plus years old, Brown said.
“The new generation, the old generation and the greatest generation just feed off of each other,” Brown said. “They all have military in common and a lot of events in common, so it makes for a big party atmosphere. But even though it’s a social scene, there’s still very keen competition, and they take the competition aspect the most serious.”
Learn more about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.