PVA joins the VA for veteran handcycle clinic
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) on July 1, 2014, hosted more than 30 disabled veterans in Milwaukee for its 16th adaptive handcycling clinic.
The clinic, which took place at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, was one in a series designed to help veterans who are unable to ride a two-wheeled bike because of spinal cord injury, spinal cord disease, or other disability.
Dr. Kenneth Lee, chief of the spinal cord injury division at the Milwaukee VA and an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, launched the clinic two years ago after attending the VA’s summer sports clinic in San Diego. Having witnessed at that clinic a group of disabled veterans realizing their potential as well as the community coming together made Lee want to bring something similar to his patients in Milwaukee.
“It really made me think,” says Lee, “as there are so many veterans out there who think they can’t do things. I wanted to put something together to prove they could, so I emulated that program and brought it to Milwaukee.”
While the July 1 handcycling clinic was the first to be affiliated with PVA on a national level, the past two clinics at the Milwaukee VA have been put on with the help of the Wisconsin chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America as well as Milwaukee bike shop Wheel and Sprocket, Lee said.
PVA works to pair up the clinics with a specific event or activity in the local area, whether it’s riding on or around a local landmark or going on a long ride on the day following the clinic. Veteran participants were sized and fit for the appropriate handcycle and then set out for a ride on the Hank Aaron Trail, a state trail named in honor of the baseball legend that connects Milwaukee’s Miller Park Stadium to the Lake Michigan lakefront.
The Milwaukee clinic took place just one day before the start of the national championships in Madison, Wisconsin, so some veterans were able to pair up their competition in the championships with the opportunity to mentor the novice and advanced cyclers participating in the clinic, said Jody Shiflett, adaptive cycling program consultant for Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Adaptive cyclers also had some additional visitors cheering them on – more than a dozen local police officers who escorted bikers on the bike paths, as well as the Famous Racing Sausages, the official mascots of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. The police officers and Brewers mascots even sat in wheelchairs to participate in a quad rugby demonstration, Lee said.
Ohio-based Invacare Corporation, Tennessee-based Power On Cycling, Chicago-based nonprofit Adaptive Adventures and the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association provided equipment and instruction for the Milwaukee Clinic.
The final handcycling clinic for this year will be on October 4, 2014, in Dallas. PVA will host four new clinics in 2015 in Miami, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City.
The goal is to spread the clinics out enough over an eight-year period that PVA will have made it convenient for all disabled veterans interested in the program to attend at least one clinic, Shiflett said.
An additional perk of participating in the handcycling clinics is that all attendees over the course of the fiscal year will be entered to win a Top End Force RX bike.
“A lot of our veterans utilize the handcycling clinic as a springboard to get their life back in order, and I see that in many of my patients,” says Lee. “It gives them the idea that they can do it; the current theme now is ability over disability, and that’s what we’re trying to point out with these handcycling clinics.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.