Kids at Heart

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News November 2013

You couldn't help but see the passion of the mentors as the children assembled on the field at Kids Day.

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For more years than I remember, I’ve attended the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), which Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has the good fortune to co-sponsor with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I’ve attended as a competitor and as a fan. As an observer, I’ve marveled at the rugged wheelchair athletes competing in he-man sports such as quad rugby and wheelchair basketball. With a tear in my eye, I’ve cheered on novices struggling to finish the wheelchair slalom. 

But one of my very favorite events is Kids Day, when disabled youngsters from the local com-munity, together with some of our veteran athletes who act as mentors, participate in selected sports events. 

This year’s Games in Tampa, Fla., were no exception. Kids Day, again, took top priority on our schedule. As I was leaving the hotel for the convention center, I noticed one of our participants. She was a very small person in a very small, very pink wheelchair.

She may have been tiny in stature, but she was full-size in purpose. Her mother, who was pushing her chair, didn’t seem sure where the event venue was. This pint-sized gal was reading a map of the convention center and with great enthusiasm, directing her adult counterpart.

Her excitement was contagious. As we got closer to the venue, I began to look forward to the event with great anticipation.

When I entered the area, I discovered a room full of veteran athletes, spouses, caregivers and 30 of possibly the most excited kids this side of the universe. There were balloons and ribbons festively decorating the scene. The junior wheelchair competitors were standing by, ready to begin playing.

We hosted 18 children for last year’s event, so undoubtedly news of our endeavor has spread in the community. PVA reaches out for these special participants through Boys & Girls Clubs, rehab hospitals and Easter Seals.

Not surprisingly, this event has become so popular there are more veteran athletes signing up to be mentors than we could ever use. Those who aren’t chosen generally attend to cheer on the kids. PVA selects mentors based on their own personal involvement with the program’s featured sports. Age or gender isn’t an issue.

You couldn’t help but see the passion of the mentors as the children assembled on the field. Each mentor had an opportunity to announce his or her name and branch of military service.

Things began with a veteran showing kids how to stretch, which may have been something alien to many of our mini-athletes. The kids were broken into groups and happily followed their mentors to the events, which included softball, basketball and an obstacle course.

I’ve often mentioned how PVA not only impacts the lives of paralyzed veterans, but also the disabled community as a whole. Kids Day is a prime example of how that works.

In a perfect world, the parents will learn from this experience and organize events like this for their children and others in their communities. Likewise, I’d like to see the mentors take their experiences back to their chapters and put together a similar event in their area.  

As the day ended, we noticed several kids didn’t want to leave the fun behind. There were tears and protests when their parents told them it was time to leave. I was informed that at least two of these kids have participated in Kids Day at other Games.

The competitors enjoyed the event so much in other localities, they traveled to Tampa to join in again. Evidently, the parents and caregivers thought the premise of Kids Day was so beneficial they made it happen for them.      

It was a proud moment for PVA as the day ended. It’s with deep appreciation that I thank everyone connected with presenting Kids Day.

If you’ve not had the opportunity to watch these youngsters in action, please make it a priority to spend a few hours with them at the next NVWG in Philadelphia.

As always, I ask you to take time to visit a veteran in the hospital or nursing home. Your visit will “make” someone’s day!


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