The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, copresented annually by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs(VA), allows veterans with disabilities to rediscover their strength and potential through athletic competition with peers. The Games are the largest annual wheelchair-sporting event in the world, with hundreds of participants and thousands of volunteers attending, making planning and preparation a year-long process.
The 33rd Wheelchair Games will be held July 13–18, 2013, in Tampa, FL. The Tampa Convention Center met all of the criteria for hosting the Games, which included availability of a very large, open space suitable for the Sports, Recreation and Fitness Expo and availability of appropriate venues around the city for the various competitions, including softball, basketball, track and field and trapshooting. Events will take place at the riverwalk, in parks, the host hotel, the zoo, a local high school and at the Convention Center, where competitions, ceremonies and the Expo will be held.
At the Expo corporate and nonprofit organizations showcase their brand and engage with hundreds of wheelchair athletes, coaches, family members, health-care providers and rehabilitation professionals. Veterans can learn about a variety of health-care products and services and organizations that offer assistance or opportunities.
Local Host Coordinator (LOC) and VA Recreation Therapist Jeanene LeSure said the LOC just “recently secured all of our venues for the various sporting events and ceremonies. Our entire LOC is complete; we have a lot of dedicated VA employees as well as chapter members from the Paralyzed Veterans Florida Gulf Coast serving on several committees.”
LeSure is responsible for managing the LOC and its nonstop work to have everything ready for the Games in 2013. “We’re almost at the halfway point; we’ve been working for about a year now,” she said.
Without the generous and selfless support of sponsors, many of which have been supporting the Games for upward of 20, 25 and 30 years, the Games could not be the annual success that it is. Sponsor and exhibitor recruitment is also a year-round process, conducted by Paralyzed Veterans corporate marketing team as well as the LOC.
“Simply put, our sponsors are the lifeblood to ensuring each year that we have the appropriate means to make the NVWG a great success,” said Pablo Sosa, associate director, Corporate & Cause Marketing. “Through our sponsors’ generous support, Paralyzed Veterans is helping improve the lives and well-being of these most deserving men and women.”
Back in Tampa, logistics take priority. Recently the LOC completed its warehouse inventory. “We went through about 17 53-foot UPS trucks full of equipment [for the sporting events]. We counted everything and took note of what we needed in order to ensure we have everything we need for the Games,” LeSure added.
Even with several accomplishments under its belt, the LOC still has a lot of work to do in order to make the Games a success. Currently, the LOC is working out the “finer details” of the Games, including finalizing the event schedule, ensuring that it has the necessary equipment for the various sporting events and ensuring that the venues are capable of holding the planned sports.
“In that area, the Tampa area has an advantage because many of the events that we are hosting at the Games are already hosted locally here in Tampa. So many of our venues are already familiar with the rules and regulations of these sports, making the whole process a lot easier for everyone,” LeSure said.
Tom Brown, Paralyzed Veterans’ consultant and program manager for the Games, noted, “The LOC in Tampa has been extremely cooperative and energetic. They are eager to ensure that the 33rd NVWG is the best ever. We all share the same goal, that of making sure the veterans have an excellent, life-changing experience.”
In the months ahead, LeSure and the LOC will be busy trying to register the 2,500-3,000 volunteers necessary to work the Wheelchair Games. For those interested, there will be an online signup that will open in January 2013. This registration period will last until June.
Thirty-two years ago, the Wheelchair Games started out as a rehabilitation event, an extension of therapy in the community to help our nation’s wounded heroes know that disabled does not mean unable.
“The Games have never lost that focus and have been introducing veterans to opportunities in sports and recreation that they never dreamed possible. For many of our veterans, the Games are truly life changing,” Brown said. “We make it our priority to ensure that each veteran has a truly memorable and rewarding experience.”