On Tuesday, the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games opened in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Organized by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, more than 600 veterans are scheduled to participate in and win medals in 19 sports including athletics, bowling, tennis, lacrosse, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, cycling, nine-ball, trap shooting, air pistol, air rifle, powerchair football, table tennis, powerlifting, softball, boccia, archery, wheelchair slalom and swimming. The Games have drawn veterans from Great Britain and observers from South Korea.
The most popular spectator sport at the competition is wheelchair rugby. It is also one of the sports the engenders a lot of passion amongst its veteran practitioners at the competition. According to Pine Grove, Schuylkill County Army veteran Mason Symons who was quoted on philly.com, “This is why I came here. […] Murder ball is the reason I am out of bed. […] I laid in bed for a good while, almost a year and a half. Then I saw this sport and said, ‘I gotta do it.'” Symons is quoted by the local CBS in explaining the game as saying, “We have four people per team on the court. […] You use all-metal chairs and it’s full contact, but you can’t use your hands to touch the opponent.”
Caro, Michigan native and Army Reservist Scot Severn also loves wheelchair rugby, telling philly.com, “Sometimes we’ll just intentionally hit for the hell of it to put on a show for the fans.”
The Games are part of overall rehabilitation efforts by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Mike Galloucis from the Department of Veterans Affairs is quoted philly.com saying, “Most people who serve in the military are fit, athletic and competitive. […] And when they experience a life-changing injury, those traits are still with them. This event gives them a chance to be competitive.” He goes on to tel CBS, “Yes, there is trash-talking when you get people from different services together, but the department sees it as an adaptive rehabilitative event, because a lot of the veterans train to come to this.”
Over 2,500 volunteers are taking part to make the Games happen, with the Department of Veterans Affairs having recruited participants starting back in March. The Games continue through Sunday.