Best Friends

Sarah Brandle, 11, makes her way through the slalom course during the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games – Kids Day event. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio

Making new friends is a huge part of the National Veterans Wheelchair Game experience as one veteran learned

Sarah Brandle made a new best friend for life.

During the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games Kids’ Day, the 11-year-old stayed by Air Force veteran Judy Overholt’s side long after the event ended Friday morning inside the Philadelphia Convention Center. 

They smiled, laughed and talked like old friends – even though they had only met just an hour and a half before.

Calista Quinn, 11, opened Kids Day with the National Anthem during the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio

It was a little slice of heaven for both.

“I thought it was awesome. The kids motivated me,” said Overholt, who volunteered to help as a mentor. “Sarah, here, she went through the slalom three times. What did you say the third time?”

“Three times a charm,” replied Brandle, from Johnstown, Pa. 

They bonded through the slalom, an obstacle course where veterans helped children in wheelchairs push up and down ramps and turn around cones.

“It was fun and challenging,” said Brandle, who has hemihypertrophy – a rare disorder in which one side of the body grows more than the other. “She [Judy] was there so I had even more fun. Well, she kept cheering me and stuff.”

A Myrtle Beach, S.C., resident, Overholt had asked to volunteer for Kids’ Day since 2009 when she saw it at the Games in Spokane, Wash. This year, she was finally granted her wish.

Overholt served in the Air Force from 1979-99 working in hotel restaurant management and mortuary services. Multiple sclerosis and seizures keep her in a wheelchair, but she had time of her life Friday. She loved seeing how children used their upper body strength to move through the course.

“I love kids. I think the world, to me, should revolve around children,” Overholt said. “They’re our future.”

Eleven children took part in Kids Day. Besides slalom, they participated in groups in wheelchair basketball and wheelchair T-ball, spending 20 minutes at each station.

Brandle is a Kids Day veteran, with this year being her fourth year. Her eyes lit up after she made baskets during wheelchair basketball. She exercised racing around the base paths during softball and wanted to do the slalom over and over again.

Her mother, Tricia Monahan, said her daughter absolutely loves to come to the event. This year, it was only a 4-hour drive away. But it was more meaningful to see Sarah having fun.

“It’s just great both directions. Just like this made Sarah’s day, it made Judy’s day, too,” Monahan said. “Everybody can have their challenges but still be able to participate and have this much fun and the feeling of accomplishment.”

Kids Day made Tai Cleveland’s day, too. A Marine Corps veteran who lives in Manassas, Va., Cleveland participated in his third Kids Day. It’s a chance for him to give back to the community that’s hosting the event and show kids how to have fun. He loves seeing children’s smiles.

“I love mentoring. What better group to mentor than a young child that’s in a wheelchair, doesn’t know all the possibilities and also give them some type of aspiration to try different things,” said Cleveland, who has a T-7, T-11 injury and served in the Marines from 1983-2007. “ So to see the rest of the kids eyes that’s new to the event for the first time and to see their parents’ eyes light up because their kids are having such a great time [is great].”

That’s exactly what happened Friday.


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