in On the road, The State We're In, Things we do

Dirty clothes, athletes in wheelchairs, and a way to give back

I found a way!

Or, as some might believe, the path was laid in front of me, and I just had to follow it. Whatever. All I know is that our itinerant lifestyle makes it difficult to volunteer — an activity we have both relied on (and enjoyed!) as a way of giving back to the military duty stations we’ve called home.

While tossing dirties into the washing machine in the laundry room at our latest home, I noticed a stack of post cards on the folding table.

1. Veterans: close to my heart 2. Wheelchair warriors: ditto (more on that coming up) 3. Going on right here, right now 4. Volunteers needed 5. And I've got that kind of time

1. Veterans: close to my heart
2. Wheelchair warriors: ditto (more on that coming up)
3. Going on right here, right now
4. Volunteers needed
5. And I’ve got that kind of time

First task: research the event. 36th annual games, and I’d never heard of them! From the web site:

Co-Presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is a rehabilitation and wheelchair sports program empowering Veterans with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, amputations and other neurological injuries to live more active and healthy lives through wheelchair sports and recreation.

Each summer, Veterans from across the United States, including a team from Great Britain, travel to a new community hosting the NVWG. During the week, Veterans compete in 18 wheelchair sports events while providing encouragement and mentoring for new Veterans. Veterans at the Games truly educate newly disabled Veterans on what is possible and those witnessing the events realize that limitations are only state of mind.

Second task: register online as a volunteer. The process was easy and quick, and I had confirmation of two scheduled shifts within hours.

Third task: respond appropriately to brain when it makes the connection, “OMG, Emily. Your cousins!” My cousin, Zane, and his wife, Debbie, own Gloves for Life, a company that manufactures assistive hand gear for wheelchair users. Debbie herself suffered a spinal cord injury in 2008, which left her a C6/C7 complete quadriplegic. In her words:

… these gloves could provide me something that my hands no longer could—“grip”.  They enabled me to easily maneuver my wheelchair, they made transfers more stable, aided in dressing and proved to be helpful in other daily tasks because when your fingers don’t work you get creative!

So I messaged Debbie to ask if she had business cards or flyers I could print and take with me to the games, and not only did she zap me a file within minutes, she added a special discount for the athletes! Heart: full.

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Ready for chills? Debbie and I have never actually met. We know each other only through other family members, and via Facebook. I know. (And yes, we keep a color printer and all kinds of paper stock here in the RV. You have your priorities; we have ours.)

Fourth task: get to the games in time for my shift at the weight lifting competition.

Bought a UTA Rail pass to get me there and back, and it couldn't have been easier, with stations mere steps from my Point A and Point B. It's only a 2-mile walk, and I considered hoofing it, but since my shift wasn't over until 10pm, I thought it safer to ride.

Bought a UTA Rail pass to get me there and back, and it couldn’t have been easier, with stations mere steps from my Point A and my Point B.

Here's how I knew I was heading in the right direction.

Here’s how I knew I was heading in the right direction.

Once inside, it was easy. I checked in at a digital kiosk...

Once inside, it was easy — astounding considering the scope of these games, with 18 events at 9 locations over 7 days, involving more than 500 athletes, their family members/coaches, a platoon of event staff, sponsors, visiting dignitaries, volunteers, and more details than most people juggle in a lifetime. All I had to do was check in at a digital kiosk…

... picked up my shirt and credentials...

… pick up my shirt and credentials…

... grabbed a meal voucher, which made it so that I didn't have to pay the usual nosebleed prices for convention center concessions...

… grab a meal voucher, which made it so that I didn’t have to pay the usual nosebleed prices for convention center concessions (Thanks, event sponsors!)…

... and took the obligatory selfie. Now I'm ready.

… and take the obligatory selfie.
Now it’s time for what really matters.

This is Tim, from Virginia, instructing us volunteers at Bench 5 on our duties. He's been involved with the games for 32 of their 36 years, and judges events all week long. He'd just come from the softball fields, changed his shirt, and got to work. Again. Until 10pm. That's dedication.

This is Tim, from Virginia, instructing us volunteers and his co-judges at Bench 5 on our duties.
He’s been involved with the games for 32 of their 36 years, and judges events all week long. He’d just come from the softball fields, changed his shirt, and got to work. Again. Until 10pm.
That’s dedication.

Here he's explaining proper technique to the athletes. Rules had changed from the year before, so it was essential that everyone understood the new procedure.

Here he’s explaining proper technique to the athletes. Rules had changed from the year before, so it was essential that everyone understood the new procedure.

My two co-volunteers, both of whom work in some capacity for the VA, but not in direct patient care, were so inspiring to watch. They assisted the competitors from chair to bench and back, which was an athletic endeavor in and of itself. They strapped down legs for those who requested it, usually with lots of jokes and laughter. "You can make it tighter, man. I can't feel it!" These two gentleman also, without a moment's hesitation, acted quickly to ensure modesty by pulling shirts down and shorts up during all the transfers. It was an issue. And their matter-of-fact handling of it touched my sarcastic little heart in ways I can't even describe.

My co-volunteers, both of whom work in some capacity for the VA, but not in direct patient care, were so inspiring to watch.
They assisted the competitors from chair to bench and back, which was an athletic endeavor in and of itself. They strapped down legs for those who requested it, usually with lots of jokes and laughter. “You can make it tighter, man. I can’t feel it!”
These two gentleman also, without a moment’s hesitation, helped ensure the athletes’ modesty by pulling shirts back down and shorts back up during all the transfers. It was an issue. And their matter-of-fact handling of it touched my sarcastic little heart in ways I can’t even describe.

Many athletes pulled out all the patriotic stops in dressing for the occasion. At least one had red, white, and blue hair.

Many athletes pulled out all the patriotic stops in dressing for the occasion. At least one was sporting red, white, and blue hair, but I was too far away to snap a pic.

My job? Score keeper. Because I have excellent penmanship, and I didn't want to have to do public math to figure out which weights to put on the bar each time. Play to your strengths, y'all. Play to your strengths. The winner at Bench 5 pressed 300, then 330, then 365 pounds, a fact which mightily impressed my 19-year-old son when I reported it. Definitely a win.

My job? Scribe — because I have excellent penmanship, and I didn’t want to have to do public math to figure out which weights to put on the bar each time. Play to your strengths, y’all. Play to your strengths.
The winner at Bench 5 pressed 300, then 330, then 365 pounds, a fact which mightily impressed my 19-year-old son when I reported it.
Definitely a win.

Next morning, I helped staff the NVWG Guest Services table at the Sheraton. We were stocked with items the athletes might need: bus schedules, dining guides, city maps, snacks, water bottles, etc. Seemed like a great place to set out the Gloves for Life cards!

Next morning, I helped staff the NVWG Guest Services table at one of the host hotels. We were stocked with items the athletes might need: bus schedules, dining guides, city maps, snacks, water bottles, etc.
Seemed like a great place to set out the Gloves for Life cards!

Fifth task: emotionally processing my take-aways. In no particular order:

  1. Volunteering feels good, and with a bit more sleuthing in each new home, I bet I can find other local events that will allow us to give back.
  2. The wheelchair athletes are just that. Athletes. Nothing is special about them, and everything is special about them. They served our country. They sustained injuries or illnesses during or after their military careers, that caused them to assess, adapt, and start over. They put all that together in positive ways, and just. kept. going.
  3. The phrase that stopped me in my tracks, in all caps on a competitor’s t-shirt: NOT RUNNING SUCKS. Whoooosh. Sound of all the air leaving my body, as I contemplated the number of times I’ve thought hiking, or yard work, or insert-strenuous-endeavor-of-choice sucked. Ouch.
  4. Perspective. I gained some, again, and I remain thankful for the opportunity. I also know I’ll get whomped upside the head with it many more times in this lifetime, if I’m smart enough to keep paying attention.

Closing ceremonies for the 36th Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games are tomorrow night, July 2, at 6:00pm at the convention center. Anyone want to join us?

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  1. You bring sunshine wherever you
    go!! I know giving back is essentially
    In living a productive life. Glad your living life to the fullest. Enjoy!!!❤️