Air Force veteran Michael Guilbalt has competed in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games every year since 1998. He has won more than 50 gold medals over those 15 years.
An Air Force Sergeant (1977-1981) from Woonsocket, R.I., who has been paralyzed since 1995, Guilbalt will compete in eight events at this summer's Games, including air gun, javelin, shot put, discus, softball, and swimming. The 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games, copresented by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), will take place in Tampa, July 13–18, 2013.
But Guilbalt says doesn’t expect to win gold in every event. “Now the 20-year-olds are starting to beat me,” he said. “I may be starting to add some silver and bronze this year to make my collection a little more ‘rainbow-ish.’ ”
When he became paralyzed, Guilbalt thought his competitive, active life had ended, and he sank into depression. But with the help of Ronnie Gendron, then–sports director of Paralyzed Veterans’ New England chapter (NEPVA), sports became a part of his life again.
“Once I got involved in sports, it got me out socializing and helped me both physically and mentally,” he said. “I call it ‘rehabilitation through recreation.’ ”
Now Guilbalt helps veterans and others with disabilities come to that same realization. He serves as assistant sports director for the Northeast chapter of Paralyzed Veterans and is a VA liaison and mentor to veterans who have experienced spinal cord injury or amputation. He also runs a disability awareness program in his community.
“Ronnie mentored me the way I mentor other people,” he says. “I’m just paying it forward.”
Guilbalt also credits the mentorship and inspiration he received by fellow NEPVA member George Norton . “He’s a hero to me,” he says. “At 70-plus years old, he’s still incredibly fit. That’s another thing that motivates us is seeing someone as fit as him at his age.”
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.