Taking Center Stage

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News September 2019

The 39th National Veterans Wheelchair Games took center stage in the heart of Louisville

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From downtown streets to riverside parks to the Kentucky International Convention Center and beyond, the 39th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) held events in more places than ever July 11–16 in Louisville, Ky.

Co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, this year’s Games took center stage in the heart of Derby City by taking some traditional indoor events outdoors.

For the first time, the NVWG held adaptive powerlifting and the advanced obstacle course called “Super G” outside at Louisville’s 4th Street Live! entertainment district. Organizers also changed up the NVWG Team Challenge by adding more events, more teams and a lot of action at The Belvedere, an elevated event space along the Ohio River in downtown Louisville.

And don’t forget the athletes themselves. They brought home stories to share and memories to last a lifetime.  

Never Too Old To Be A Novice

Air Force veteran John Melvin has stories and memories to share of participating in his first NVWG after passing on the event two years ago because he just wasn’t ready.

“I still hadn’t ridden a handbike and had time to do golf and was doing different things,” says Melvin, who served from 1968–1976 as an aircraft fuel system analyst and sustained S1-S5 and L3-L4 spinal-cord injuries (SCI) in a 1973 aircraft accident in Japan. “So, Deb Freed, a good friend of mine, she’s the executive director of the New England PVA, she talked me into coming down and trying it.”

This year, at age 70, Melvin thought it was time. So he and his wife, Rebecca, drove down from Rockland, Mass., and spent the week in Louisville. 

They ended up with a lot to celebrate — from both of their birthdays to a fun experience at historic Churchill Downs to John earning a medal in his favorite event, handcycling. 

John participated in four other events, including motor rally (trivia) at Churchill Downs, air rifle, motorized slalom and trapshooting. 

One day after celebrating his 70th birthday and on the day of Rebecca’s 70th birthday, John earned a handcycling silver medal in his Novice IV/V division, finishing the 10K in 36 minutes and 48 seconds at Beckley Creek Park in Louisville. 

Over the past year, John has handcycled three to four days a week, including riding with Freed for two hours every Monday night, and strengthened his upper body way more than before. 

“Your core, your chest, your biceps, your triceps … everything is involved,” says John, who is also an Agent Orange survivor. “’Cause I’m amazed. Last year, [after] 10 miles going uphill, my arms would just burn. Now, I go much farther.”

But Rebecca enjoyed the event just as much as her husband. She knew how important handcycling has been in his recovery and was thrilled.

“I think it’s awesome,” Rebecca says. “I think it’s so well-coordinated and put together and everybody’s just so pleasant. It’s exciting for me to see all of this and to be able to go out and see a different part of the country. And how they can accumulate so many volunteers, that’s very impressive.”


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Taking Center Stage


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