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More Than Medals

Reprinted from PN November 2008

Meeting in America's Heartland, hundreds of veterans discover the benefits of the Golden Age Games.

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The already busy downtown area of Indianapolis bustled with hundreds of new faces in August when nearly 700 competitors flocked to the city for the 22nd National Veterans Golden Age Games, a national rehabilitation event sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans Canteen Service, and Help Hospitalized Veterans.

The veterans, all age 55 and older, were ready to enjoy days of camaraderie and friendly competition. Of the 14 events offered, some of the more popular sports were bicycling, swimming, bowling, and horseshoes. For the veterans who appreciate a more low-impact activity, checkers, shuffleboard, and dominoes all proved to be good alternatives with an equally competitive edge.

He hasn't golfed in about a year, but James Dyess takes on the challenge of competing in this sport at the National Veterans Golden Age Games.

In addition to the events for ambulatory participants, the Games also offer competition for wheelchair users as well as those with visual impairments. All take part in their respective division by age group. The oldest this year was Jack Faust of Hayward, Calif., a 97-year-old U.S. Navy veteran of World War II who took home a gold medal in wheelchair shuffleboard. Nearly 40% of this year's entries served in Vietnam, the largest group of combat veterans attending the event.

In 2004, the Games became a qualifier for the National Senior Games, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Gold, silver, and bronze medalists in certain events have the opportunity to compete among America's elite seniors. Whether the participating veterans come to the Games seeking opportunities to enhance their level of competition or simply to stay connected with their peers, each one goes home touched by the experiences of the week, and often the motivation to make that feeling last all year long. After competing just once, many decide when they get home that it's time to start training for next year's event.

The New Participant

Kathleen Ryan, a U.S. Army veteran from Salisbury, N.C., is an avid football fan and sports fanatic, but multiple sclerosis and arthritis have kept her on the sidelines in recent years. Never had she imagined that at age 63 and in a wheelchair, she would be joining in the action and winning medals over her opponents. That's exactly what happened, though, when Ryan traveled to Indianapolis to compete in these Games.

"The National Veterans Golden Age Games are the most awe-inspiring event I have ever been to," says Ryan, a novice competitor. "The atmosphere was jovial, and there was no complaining—just veterans competing and doing their thing."

As a newcomer, Ryan decided to test the waters by signing up only for the minimum number of sports. But after winning gold medals in bowling and horseshoes, she can barely wait to trek to Birmingham, Ala., next year to dive into the maximum of four.

"The medals are absolutely beautiful, but the competition and camaraderie are unbelievable," she says. "The value of regular exercise for older veterans and for disabled veterans is important, and that is something this event clearly emphasizes. Staying active is among the most important things a person can do, disabled or not. Participating in the Games gave me a feeling of satisfaction. There are two things I can say about the Golden Age Games—I was humbled and I was in awe."


Read about other Games participants in the November PN.

 

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More Than Medals

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