Retired VA Recreational Therapist Barbara Holmes has been actively involved with the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, since the inception of the games in 1981. It’s the spirit of the games and of the inspiring members and employees of Paralyzed Veterans of America that have kept Barbara coming back each year as a volunteer.
Barbara became involved with the Games shortly after starting her career at the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1980. Her relationship with Paralyzed Veterans of America started in 1985, when the growing size and complexity of the annual Games resulted in Paralyzed Veterans becoming a co-sponsor.
Even after moving into various positions at the San Antonio VA Medical Center – including an administrative officer in the spinal cord injury unit – that no longer warranted her presence at the Games, Barbara began using her annual paid leave to attend and continue her role of registering and calculating results for the various adaptive sports events.
“The funny story I tell when I introduce myself to officials at the games is that I’m so old that when I first started doing statistics, we didn’t have computers,” Barbara says. “We were writing out the statistics manually.”
As the nation recognizes National Volunteer Week – an effort aimed at inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to serve their communities, it’s important to recognize the service of Barbara and other volunteers as vital pillars in making the organization’s adaptive sports programs successful, said Fabio Villarroel, associate director of sports and recreation for Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“Volunteers are an essential part of any of our sporting events being successful,” Villarroel said. “Our athletes are able to go out, have fun and compete because of the selfless work being done by these individuals.”
Barbara retired from the VA in 2010, yet she continues to travel from her home in San Antonio to fulfill her role as a volunteer at the Games each year. It’s the love of her VA career and the relationship with the veterans that keep her coming back, she says.
“The folks at Paralyzed Veterans of America are so wonderful to work with,” Barbara says. “Besides the love of what I do, having them as partners has been such a joy.”
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Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.