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.
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.
Fourth task: get to the games in time for my shift at the weight lifting competition.
Fifth task: emotionally processing my take-aways. In no particular order:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?