It’s not the Paralympics, but that made it no less exciting for the 19 children at Kids Day during the 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games. These children with disabilities spent time with 14 adaptive-sports athletes turned volunteer mentors.
“I’m enjoying it very much,” said Dominic Ruperto, 7. “Softball is my favorite game so far.”
The mentors introduced the children, ages 3 to 11, to three sports: wheelchair slalom, softball and basketball. Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) President Bill Lawson said Kids Day is likely to start many children on paths to adaptive sports.
“It’s a very important event at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games,” he said. “It allows some of us to come out and introduce younger folks to sports they can do. It shows parents that it’s important to start the kids in sports.”
Lawson added, “There was one young man I was watching today—he was quick. I’m going to get his name because he’s going to be in the Paralympics. I’m sure of it.”
Mentor Anthony Radetic said the athletes at the Wheelchair Games look forward to Kids Day at least as much as the children.
“It’s a privilege and honor to come out to Kids Day,” he said. “I feel like the chosen few; I look forward to it. This is something that gets us involved in the community, and helps these kids see what they can do.”
He, too, believes Kids Day will inspire many children to Paralympics-level athleticism.
“You look at these kids and you see that competitive spirit,” he said. “We’re just giving them some inspiration.”
After participating in Kids Day, some of the veterans who served as mentors there have gone home and continued giving, including year Johnny Holland, who found opportunities in his hometown to introduce children to various adaptive sports.
“At home, I volunteer at schools sometimes to help kids with disabilities,” Holland said. “It’s a way to give back (to society) and a way to educate the kids and parents.”
Parent Michele Ruperto tapped into the theme of this year’s Wheelchair Games, “Where Heroes Become Legends,” to describe the volunteer mentors.
“We thank them for their continuing service,” she said. They keep giving and serving. They are legends.”
View video from Kids Day and other events at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Patrick McCallister is a reporter in Florida and frequent contributor to PN Magazine.