An Exhilarating Birthday

Navy veteran Larry Binger celebrated his 70th birthday in style para-bobsledding at the 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Photo by John Groth.

Navy veteran celebrates 70th Birthday doing para-bobsledding

Of all the ways he could celebrate his 70th birthday, Larry Binger found one that lived up its wild, insane and adventurous billing.

The Navy veteran went para-bobsledding in Winter Park, Utah, Wednesday morning during the 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Yep, the paralyzed veteran zoomed down the Winter Park track, which hosted the 2002 Olympic Games bobsled event, in a four-man bobsled at speeds of 60-70 mph and went down the track, which had 15 total curves and a 4 to 5 g-force range in some of them.

A para-bobsled races past during a day of para-bobsledding on the 2002 Olympic Track in Park City, Utah. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio

“Awesome, it was awesome – just the rush,” said Binger, a Newark, Del., resident and Team Delaware Patriots member. “I mean it was like, you’re prepared for it, at least you think you are and then you hit one of those [turns] and I was like ‘oh my God!’”

Competitors don’t call him “Crazy Larry” for nothing.

“Every time you do an exhibition event or we’re at some other wheelchair event where things are offered, I’m usually the first one to sign up,” Binger said. “Well, in this case, I’ve got a need for speed.”

Binger, along with around 50 other veterans, participated in the para-bobsled exhibition at Winter Park – about a 40-minute drive from Salt Lake City, where most of the other NVWG events are being held. The Games started Monday and run through Saturday.

Wheelchair athletes were bused up the mountains, unloaded and then given a rules briefing. They put on helmets, were lifted up and loaded into the bobsled by volunteers, told to keep their wrists and elbows off the sides of the bobsled and use their fatty, musclely part of their forearms by instructors to give themselves a push down the track. There’s also a roll bar over the top of the bobsled for safety.

They’re led by a driver in the front, who steered them down the track, which included two major turns, Turn 4 and Turn 6, that delivered major g-force.

Chairman of the International Bobsled and Skelton Foundation’s para-sport committee John Rosen acknowledged bobsled isn’t for the faint of heart.

“They [wheelchair veteran participants] put their hands through the straps, brace their forearms against the sides of the sled and shrug their shoulders. That helps them with any side vibration,” he said. “It’s not a smooth ride. It’s an intense ride down.”

Veterans could choose either position 2, position 3 or position 4, with position 2 being next to the driver and position 4 being the furthest away and most bumpy.

Binger chose position 2, mainly because he’s participating in archery and trapshooting Thursday and didn’t want to get too bruised or banged up.

“I don’t want to be too sore so I can’t shoot,” he said. “I thought that was a wise idea.”

PVA Vice President Hack Albertson chose position four. He acknowledged the tough part of that position is that you can’t see what’s next. And when you’re pulling 4 G's in Turn 6, all you’re doing is breathing and your heart’s beating.

“I played fullback in high school. It was like being tackled by 10 people and then they take forever to get off you,” Albertson said. “And that’s really how it is. When you’re just starting that turn it’s like they just tackled you, the middle of the turn there’s like 10 people on you.”

Albertson would do it again, though, and actually plans on coming back for a Paralympic camp in September.

Binger loved the event, too, and will remember it for awhile.

“[It was] awesome, and I didn’t swallow my dentures,” he said.


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