It’s not rare that special bonds develop during the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). It might be more unusual that the bond is between a 7-year-old and virtually everyone he meets.
Dominic Ruperto, who has cerebral palsy, attended his first Kids Day at the NVWG last year in Pittsburgh. Living just a few miles away from Pittsburgh in Verona, Dominic’s mom, Michele, thought it would be good for her sports-crazed 7-year-old to see other wheelchair athletes in action and to have the chance to participate himself. Dominic loved Kids Day, and everyone loved him.
“He met so many people and just really developed so many friendships,” Michele said. “To Dominic, the athletes here are gentle giants. And he sees the potential for an active lifestyle when he watches them.”
Since those games, Dominic has stayed in touch with several of the NVWG participants he met. In fact, some of them pooled together some money to pay for Dominic to attend the Games this year.
Paralyzed Veterans of America President Bill Lawson has said about Kids Day, “It’s a very important event at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. 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.”
Michele said that Dominic, now 8, competed in several events during the day along with what she estimated were about a dozen or so other children. Veteran mentors introduced kids to adaptive sports and taught them skills in their designated games. Also taking part this year was Dominic’s sister, Gionna, who is 4. “Gionna got in a chair and participated, too,” her mom said. “It’s important for her to see what adaptive sports are like because they are such a part of her brother’s life.”
Dominic said hockey is his favorite sport, and he plays sled hockey back home in Pennsylvania. He was especially keen on watching some of the team sports at the NVWG such as rugby, soccer and basketball.
With the Games moving farther away from their Pennsylvania home, don’t think that Kids Day will be without Dominic in the near future. Michele said the same veterans who paid for his expenses to come to Richmond have already said Dominic will be in Tampa next year.
“This is such a thrill for Dominic,” Michele said, just after her son was given a new decorative helmet by a veteran. “And he’s been given so much stuff we might have to rent a U-Haul to get back home.”
Michele suggested that all kids in wheelchairs around the Tampa area in 2013 should come out and take part in Kids Day. “It’s so much fun,” she said.
Learn more about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.