Organizing a National Veterans Wheelchair Games takes countless hours of research, site visits, and meeting with sponsors, donors and others. In the thickest part of the cyclone of activity is a local Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) chapter, this year Keystone Paralyzed Veterans.
Jim Riemer, 2011 National Veterans Wheelchair Games coordinator, Keystone Paralyzed Veterans of America, works with the chapter’s executive director, Joe Dornbrock, to keep the Games going smoothly.
“It’s a ton of work,” said Jerry Baylor, chapter sports director. “It’s quite a few hours. The Games come up daily, no matter what.”
This is second time Pittsburgh has hosted the Games. The Keystone chapter and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Integrated Service Network 4 have had about two years to prepare. Keystone chapter vice president and national director, Jim Riemer served as the 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games coordinator.
“I’ll take on anything,” Riemer said. “I think that’s why I get so many hats.”
He said the chapter formed or has been part of about 35 committees involved in planning the Games, from venues and volunteers to meals and medals. Riemer compared the Wheelchair Games to his former profession.
“Before I got hurt, I built houses,” he said. “When I got (to the construction site), there was nothing there,” he said. “When I left, there was a house. It feels the same—the satisfaction.”
Riemer said that while planning the Games is taxing on a Paralyzed Veterans’ chapter, it has big rewards, too. The Games have given Keystone Paralyzed Veterans an opportunity to raise community awareness of its presence, offerings and needs, he said.
Baylor said he has spoken to a many organizations over the past two years. “(The Games) bring awareness for sure. The last two weeks my phone has rung more than it ever has. Every day, people calling wanting to do stories; or for me to speak; athletes (calling) from out of town—everything.”
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the largest annual wheelchair sporting event of its kind. This year more than 600 athletes are participating in 17 adaptive sports events. In 2012 the Games will return to their birthplace, Richmond, VA.
Patrick McCallister is a reporter in Florida and frequent contributor to PN Magazine.