For the Gulf Coast chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, having the 33rd annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa has led to a number of benefits, from spreading awareness about veterans’ issues to local businesses becoming more accessible for individuals with disabilities.
“Once we learned two years ago that the wheelchair games were coming to Tampa, we started to be proactive and get out there,” said Davis Celestine, president of the Gulf Coast chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “It involved talking to local restaurants, fellow gym members, or just people at the local grocery store or church. We all wanted to be an inspiration and outlet to make this a great event.”
Celestine said that the process of educating the public was slow in the beginning, in large part because most are not familiar with athletic people being in wheelchairs. Once that clicked, more businesses wanted to make their establishments more wheelchair-friendly, and more members of the public came on board to help out, he said. “Everyone right now is chomping at the bit to be part of the Games coming to town,” he said.
Kevin Poindexter, sports director for the Gulf Coast Chapter, said the chapter also has worked tirelessly over the past couple of years to raise more than $30,000 to help pay for the opening ceremonies. The largest donation came from the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team in the amount of $10,000, he said.
The chapter also has been working with the Tampa International Airport to help train their staff on how to effectively and carefully handle individuals in wheelchairs. A follow-up to that training will take place this week to ensure airport staff are prepared to handle the influx of wheelchair athletes arriving on Friday, Celestine said.
Celestine also will visit six local radio stations this week to spread the word about the games, and the chapter will run some public service announcements promoting the local Paralyzed Veterans chapter.
“I’m going to tell the public that it doesn’t stop here with the wheelchair games coming to town,” Celestine said. “The local chapter will have events going on year-round, and we encourage the public to come out and learn what the chapter is all about and get involved.”
Poindexter expressed that members of the Gulf Coast chapter are excited and anxious to see their hard work over the past couple of years finally come together at the Wheelchair Games.
“It’s a good feeling to have the Wheelchair Games in your home state,” he said. “I hope that everyone comes out from Tampa to support our veterans, watch us compete, and win medals. It will be a great thing to see the community come out and support us.”
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.