A common word used by novices about their first experience at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) is “overwhelming,” at least for the initial phases. After a day of competitions under their belts, though, the athletes are settling into the week.
Rickey Wood, who was in the Army from 1979 to 1983, spoke just after finishing the handcycling event, which was the first event of his first Games.
“I had never been in any competition,” Wood said. “I had butterflies.”
Wood gave a solid performance in the event and showed his love for the Indianapolis Colts in the process, sporting a Colts banner on the front of his cycle and a Colts flag flying from the back. That drew the attention of an Indianapolis fan whose daughter is a former Colts cheerleader, who got his contact information after the race. After his conversation with the Colts fan and all the cheering at the finish line of the race, Wood joked that he could get used to that kind of attention.
Still, Wood said that the initial experience of competition was a bit intimidating. “Here are guys with sponsor jerseys, and I’m out here in my T-shirt and jeans,” Woods said with a laugh. “It scared me at first.” Now, of course, Wood thinks he might just have a knack for handcycling. He’s also competing in air gun, discus, and archery over the course of the week.
Wood, who lives in Henrico, Va., sustained his injury in July 2010. “I was down and came a long way to get back,” he said, adding that it’s good to be around people who can understand his situation. “You feel like you’re one of them,” Wood said about the other competitors. “You feel like you fit into this awkward puzzle.”
Jonathan Moore and his wife, Jennifer, made the trek down to Tampa from Temple, Georgia. While Moore said that the NVWG is a bit overwhelming at first but added that it also makes you feel like you’re not alone in your situation. Moore, who was in the Navy from 1988 to 1995, was injured in a training accident in 1994.
In the past year, Moore got involved in shooting sports and realized he had a penchant for hitting a target. He entered the Roosevelt Games in Warm Springs, Ga., in archery last year and won. Thinking it could have just been a fluke, he entered another competition and won again. Since then, Moore has become deeply involved in the sport and is also competing in air guns. The two sports, though, come with costly equipment, so Moore is looking for sponsors and has hopes to make it to the Paralympics.
Moore suggests that other veterans in wheelchairs find a sport that they enjoy and are physically comfortable with and then get involved. Jennifer, said that she is excited for her husband because he is excited. “This is his thing,” she said.
Ben Tomlinson was a Marine from 2007 to 2012. In May 2011, he was shot in Afghanistan. The Jacksonville, Ala., native found himself initially at Bethesda when he got back into the United States. Upon looking at hospitals best for spinal cord injuries, Tampa’s James A. Haley was closest so he came to Tampa for rehab and is at the NVWG with the Tampa contingent.
His interest in recreational sports was born back in Alabama, though. He joined a quad rugby team at Birmingham’s Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital. “I’ve learned so much from those guys—about the sport but even more importantly about life,” Tomlinson said. That inspired him to attend the NVWG.
He’s finished first in his division for handcycling and feels good about his performance in air guns with quad rugby still ahead. In terms of recommending the NVWG for others, “Why not?” Tomlinson said. “There’s no reason not to give it a shot.”
Learn more about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.