BAY PINES, FL – Twelve gold medals, two silver and one bronze. These were the spoils taken home by the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s (VAHCS) five-Veteran team during the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games held in Tampa, Fla. July 13-18.
This was the first year the Bay Pines VAHCS entered the National Veterans Wheelchair Games as a team joining the nearly 600 athletes from the United States, Great Britain and Puerto Rico in the world’s largest annual multi-sport wheelchair event for military Veterans.
The competition featured 18 different medal-awarding events and two exhibition events with athletes competing against their peers according to wheelchair sports experience and agility. Besides producing national and world-class athletes, the Games also provide opportunities for newly disabled Veterans to gain sports skills and be exposed to other wheelchair athletes.
Members of the Bay Pines team included Lin Hales, recreation therapist and team coach; U.S. Army Veterans Jimmy Green (four gold – Basketball, Javelin, Nine Ball, Discus; one bronze - softball) and Pam Kelly (five gold – bowling, motorized slalom, archery, motor rally, air guns); Air Force Veterans Shawn O’Neil and Angel Watson (two gold – weightlifting, trap shooting; two silver – nine ball, table tennis); and Navy Veteran Bob Schum (one gold – bowling).
“To be a part of this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games was an amazing opportunity, to say the least,” said Hales. “Despite our team being small in numbers, we were larger than life in effort, attitude, and energy. The team not only showed up and put forth 110% at their individual events, but they showed up all day long to cheer on each other. It was comradery and sportsmanship at its finest,” she said.
For Green, a native of Largo, Fla., this was his 18th year of competing in the Games and first year competing on the Bay Pines VAHCS team. As a Games Veteran with more than 50 medals under his belt and a former member of a National Wheelchair Basketball Association championship team, Green said he aims to build the team at Bay Pines and bring more awareness to the therapeutic benefits of adaptive sports.
“Every disabled Veteran deserves the opportunities that I have received and the Veterans at Bay Pines are no exception,” he said. “I want to help build this program because I want every disabled Veteran at Bay Pines to have that feeling that I got from discovering adaptive sports.”
For Kelly, a resident of Pinellas Park, Fla. and U.S. Army Veteran medically discharged from active duty military in 2006; this was her first time competing in the Games – and definitely not her last.
“The experience of the Games let me know that there is no obstacle I cannot overcome,” Kelly explained. I have a lot of challenges in my life now, but I know I can get through day-by-day. I definitely know that I want to represent Bay Pines next year in Philadelphia, my hometown.”
The Games are presented annually by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America co-hosted the 2013 event locally.