On a warm, humid Tampa Saturday morning, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) offered a kickoff event to launch the 33rd happening of this highly anticipated annual event and welcome to all veterans, coaches, media, sponsors and fans.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, photo by Chris Ennis
Designed as a first opportunity for area media to publicize the NVWG, the event featured a basketball exhibition on the patio in front of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Emcee was popular Tampa area media personality Chip Carter, the Emmy Award–winning sports director for Fox 13. Carter introduced the speakers and provided some color commentary during the basketball exhibition.
Paralyzed Veterans of America President Bill Lawson welcomed everyone to the Games and offered advice to the greater Tampa community. “Cheer them on,” Lawson said of the veteran athletes. “Talk to them. Say hello. Thank them for their service.”
Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel noted in his remarks that the Games are designed for veterans not just to recover but to thrive. He added that the Tampa community will see athletes not only pushing themselves but pushing their fellow athletes, all the while redefining capabilities and inspiring us all. The Games, he said, show the true spirit of America’s veterans.
In addition to welcoming all attendees, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn volunteered—or perhaps was volunteered by someone else—to play on a wheelchair basketball team with media professionals and staff members from the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, the host medical center for this year’s NVWG.
Calling Tampa a military town, he said to the veterans, “We could not be prouder,” (to host the 33rd NVWG). “Thank you for what you have done for us. This is a labor of love for Tampa.”
As the basketball exhibition began, two teams of veterans took to the court first. But then a team led by Mayor Buckhorn took the court. The crowd was amused watching the team members struggle to play wheelchair basketball for the first time.
With opening ceremonies scheduled for later that night, the event provided the official start to the Games, giving a preview of what’s to come in the days ahead and showing that all are prepared to “Seize the day in Tampa Bay.”
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.