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Veterans Head to Louisville from Across U.S. for Wheelchair Games

Basketball is one of almost 20 sports in which athletes can compete at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. (National Veterans Wheelchair Games)
Basketball is one of almost 20 sports in which athletes can compete at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. (National Veterans Wheelchair Games)
July 3, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Hundreds of veterans will be in Louisville next week to compete in the 39th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Men and women with spinal-cord injuries, amputations and other impairments will compete in a variety of sports.

U.S. Army veteran Ted Rake is coming from Indiana to be part of the games. Rake was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his 40s, and lost function on one side of his body. He said watching other veterans compete in the Wheelchair Games a few years ago made a strong impression on him and how he views his own abilities. Rake said it changed his life.

"I was watching the 'Super G' event, which is essentially like an advanced wheelchair course, and there was a guy there, there was a Marine, was missing part of his leg," Rake said. "And he would fail, and he would fail and he would fail - and then finally, he'd overcome the obstacle. And then he'd get to the next obstacle, and he'd fail, he'd fail, he'd fail - and then he'd overcome it. And he finally finished it."

This year, Rake is competing in Boccia, bowling, archery, discus and shotput. He said many veterans train for years to be able to compete in the games.

AARP Kentucky and Paralyzed Veterans of America are recruiting local volunteers to staff the events and cheer the athletes on. About 3,000 volunteers are needed; more information is online at wheelchairgames.org.

Jennifer Purser, who directs the games, said more than 600 veterans participate in nearly 20 different sports. She said the games first began in the 1980s.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs started this because there was such a need for adaptive sports to help with rehabilitation for injured veterans," said Purser, senior associate director of sports and recreation for Paralyzed Veterans of America. "The one main thing that I always hear is that, 'The games is a place I can go and I see people in the same situation that I am, and I get to build my support system, and my family gets to build their support system.' "

In 2016, more than 300,000 veterans were living in Kentucky, according to the state's Department of Veterans Affairs. Organizers have pointed out that, like the Olympics, the Wheelchair Games are held in a different city each year, with the hope of introducing the program to new participants.

More information about the event is online at wheelchairgames.org/mission.

Disclosure: AARP Kentucky contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Senior Issues, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY