Much like UPS, national sponsor for the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the coaches know logistics.
“You want to make sure your athletes know when they are competing and understand how early they need to be at each event,” Michael Firestone said. “Today I helped line people up for handcycling. A few minutes ago I was making sure the volunteer gave our athlete the right air gun. It’s just trying to help in any way possible. And if I can offer a few pointers in any of the sports that I’ve personally played, I’ll try to do that. But, no, this isn’t coaching in the traditional sense.”
Firestone has worked for James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa for 17 years. He is currently the lead physical therapist in the spinal cord injury center. Due to being an employee of the host hospital, Firestone said that his role is a bit different this year.
“It’s been a planning process of about three years, so there has been some stress leading up to the Games,” he said. “On the other hand, because the Games are here, we didn’t have to worry about transportation to the event, which is always one of the biggest logistics challenges.” Firestone added, too, that he has tried to pitch in wherever possible for whoever needs it. “Tampa is putting its best foot forward,” he said.
Firestone said that this is his third Wheelchair Games and that he now feels more comfortable in his role of coach. “Plus, it’s always just so inspirational,” Firestone said. “More people should come see it. To see so many doing so much with so little is just amazing to see.”
While novice athletes always get attention, sometimes the novice coaches are overlooked. Ryan Dollins is one of those. An intern in recreational therapy at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago, Dollins has suddenly found himself in the role of coach.
“Our first concern is for the safety of our athletes,” Dollins said. “We make sure that they are eating, well-hydrated and taking their meds. Then you mainly concentrate on logistics. You understand that you have 18 people who need to be at five different events and you’ve got to make that happen.”
While logistics are a key component, Dollins added that communication is key, and that leads to trust. It’s imperative that the athletes know the coaches can trust them. He also added that the Games are all about helping each other.
“I’m learning so much as a new coach,” Dollins said. “We have five novices on our team and they are learning from the more experienced participants. And we all try to help anyone who needs it, not just those on our team. It’s really great to see that sort of willingness to help people.”
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.