Capturing the Moments
The 37th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Cincinnati tugged at athletes' and fans' spirits in different ways.
Each athlete’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) experience is unique. Some are buoyed by their athletic accomplishments, hitting levels they didn’t know they could reach. For others, they’re ignited by bonding and developing a camaraderie with fellow veterans in the same situation as them. And for others, they’re energized and taken aback by the way the Games help bring their families together. Veterans shared in those moments at this year’s NVWG, co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in Cincinnati. More than 550 athletes competed in 19 sports at the July 17–22 Games, and here are some of the highlights.
Love Rolls On
An unexpected boccia ball grouping change left Wayde and Janet Moyer in a fun predicament. With boccia ball events overcrowded and play needing to be sped up July 21, organizers regrouped competitors into different categories — and the husband and wife ended up facing each other in their first match inside the Duke Energy Convention Center. The two Navy veterans and Bradenton, Fla., residents had attended the past six Games together and hadn’t faced each other in any event until that day. They went with it and turned it into a lasting memory, opening with a couple of pre-match kisses and hugs before Wayde went on to beat Janet, 2-0. They closed the match with another kiss and Wayde was happy to move on, while Janet was frustrated about the playing conditions.
“The floor was slow,” says Janet, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2002 and is in a wheelchair. The 59-year-old also pointed out a drainage system in the middle of the concrete floor on her side that slanted her shots downward, causing her to lose.
Wayde, 57, acknowledged they’re two competitive individuals.
“I’d still beat her. She probably doesn’t want to do it again. You only got to throw two [rounds]. Well, the second game [against her], I only threw the one ball,” Wayde says. “My favorite event? I’d say this one right now. Not because I won it, but I like it. It’s easy and a lot less burdensome on my shoulder and on my back.”
Wayde is 100% disabled, dealing with the effects of chronic osteomyelitis (a severe and persistent infection of bone and bone marrow), Berger’s disease (a kidney disease that occurs when immunoglobulin A lodges into your kidneys) and several inoperable back injuries. He’s had a wheelchair since 2010 but can walk very, very short distances. The pair celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary Sept. 29. They have three children and five grandchildren.
And Wayde still remembers the day they met, right off the bat. They were both postal workers in the Navy.
“We met in Rota, Spain,” he says. “I was designated to pick her and another lady up at the airport and bring them to the post office for their orientation, and it just went on from there. She told me she was going to marry me and that was it.”
Janet has attended the NVWG since 2008, while Wayde finally joined her in 2012. He watched that year and then started participating in events the following year.
This year, Janet won a gold medal in air rifle (women’s Masters SH2 division), earned silver in nine-ball and also competed in bowling and the motorized obstacle course, or slalom. She had earned a gold medal in nine-ball seven of the past eight years before this year. Wayde earned silver in motorized rally, or trivia, in the Masters division, and also competed in bowling.
“I come for the camaraderie and I tell everybody it’s like summer camp,” Janet says. “Every year you see these people and if they’re not here, you worry about them and wonder what happened. But I’m not here for the medals, I’m here to see everybody.”
A Big Blue Presence
Seeing everybody at the Games this year included lots of Cincinnati police officers, but they weren’t there because of a security threat. They were there to help out and support the participants. Veterans mean plenty to the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) and Sgt. Dave Corlett. The department is filled with veterans. More than 340 out of 1,000 sworn officers have served in the military, according to Corlett. During the Games, officers watched events, helped out at the block party and talked with veterans at a table they set up inside the Duke Energy Convention Center. The department’s strong presence at the NVWG is part of a larger mission it has to help veterans.
An Army veteran and aeroscout observer who served in Desert Storm, Corlett serves as a military liaison group coordinator for CPD. Its mission is to help all veterans they run into in the field, train other first responders in how to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and recruit for the police department and for the city. When officers make contact with a veteran in the field, they bring the veteran to Corlett, and he figures out where he or she needs to go. He works with the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and its director, Vivian Hudson, who spoke at the NVWG opening ceremony.
Corlett started the group about 3½ years ago to help other veterans after he answered a call for a deceased individual during the winter. He went to an abandoned apartment building, climbed up a ladder, went through a window and found a man, a veteran, who had frozen to death inside.
“So I started looking into what it was that caused guys to seclude [themselves] like that, and it was post-traumatic stress. That’s what it is,” Corlett says. “So I learned more about it. I went to some training, learned how to teach other people about it, and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger. Law enforcement across the country is struggling with ways to deal with the vets that are having trouble. So when we offer them solutions or try to get them more involved, it’s very well received.”
Lighting The Way
Michael Stutler also had a wonderful time at the Games by experiencing one of the most meaningful moments of his life. An Air Force veteran and PVA Buckeye Chapter member for 31 years, Stutler had the honor of lighting the cauldron to open the 37th annual NVWG on July 17. Not even an abcessed tooth could keep the 55-year-old from the Games. Only a week before, Stutler had emergency oral surgery to remove the tooth. After plenty of icepacks and cold compresses, his swelling and puffy mouth had all but disappeared before he was a part of the opening ceremony.
“It was amazing. And being able to light the cauldron was one of the greatest honors I believe I could have ever had,” Stutler says, crying. “It means the world to me, to be able to do that for my fellow veterans, brothers and sisters.”
Injured in a surfing accident at Dellows Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii, that left him with a broken neck and C7 injury, Stutler earned bronze in nine-ball (Open Division II) and manual bowling (Division II). He also competed in the Open Division in discus, javelin and air rifle events.
Spirit Of The Games Shock
Ardrena Bailey also received a great honor at the Games, but Bailey’s came as a shock when she learned she had been named the 2017 NVWG Spirit of the Games winner. After finding out she’d won the award, Bailey put a hand over her mouth as her picture was projected on the big screen at the Duke Energy Convention Center Grand Ballroom.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m so shocked. I’m so grateful. I’m eternally grateful, and I just want to thank everybody for their support and this special night,” says Bailey, an Army veteran. “I’m just so honored. Many years. I’m just so grateful for everyone. I look forward to coming here every year and everyone’s support.”
A PVA member, Bailey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), but that didn’t slow her down. She competed in her first NVWG in 1997, and this year she finished as a double gold-medal winner in senior Class 3 ramp bowling (350-pin total) and discus (7.43 meters). Invacare Corporation’s National Account Manager to the VA Stuart Cohen presented Bailey with the award at the closing ceremonies, describing a moment that led to her being named the award winner.
“Even during this year’s Games after earning gold in bowling and discus, she competed in boccia. She did not place but as soon as she got off the court, she turned to her coach and said she was going to go out and immediately get a new set and get better,” Cohen says. “It is that drive and persistence that led her coach, Colleen, to nominate her.”
Honoring Tom Brown
The Spirit of the Games award wasn’t the only big honor handed out during the closing ceremonies on July 22. Retiring NVWG Director Tom Brown was honored for his dedication and service in helping to create the Games. Although he helped start the Games 37 years ago, Brown has never thought of himself as the founder. He’s considered himself their caregiver.
“I’ve always kind of tried to stay in the background ’cause the spotlight is on you guys, you veterans, and always has been and always should be,” says Brown.
During the closing ceremonies, Brown was presented with awards from the Games co-sponsors, the VA and PVA. He received the secretary’s award from the VA honoring his leadership and a crystal from PVA thanking him for his service. Despite going through a heart attack, quadruple bypass surgery and two strokes this past year, Brown has never missed a Games and has only missed one site visit in 37 years. The idea for the Games was conceived by Brown, Wally Lynch, director of recreation therapy at the VA central office, and Muriel Barber, chief of recreation therapy at Hunter Holmes VA Hospital in Richmond, Va.
The first NVWG was held in 1981 at the McGuire VA Hospital in Richmond and included 74 participants from 14 states competing in track and field, obstacle course, billiards and swimming. Today, there are more than 550 veteran wheelchair athletes competing in more than 19 sports from 48 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and Great Britain.
PVA’s Ernie Butler will take over as the Games’ director, serving as a liaison between the national VA, VA local organizing committee, PVA national and the PVA host chapter. Butler acknowledged Brown played a major part in keeping the Games running so smoothly and hopes he’ll come close to the task.
“Tom has created a lasting legacy that very few people on this earth ever have the opportunity to do, a legacy of giving and caring,” Butler says. “I can never fill Tom Brown’s shoes in taking over, but neither can Tom. But I can and I will do everything I can do to protect your legacy and these Games.”
For more coverage of the NVWG, including results, photos, stories and videos, browse through our website.
Capturing the Moments
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