Navy veteran Jeff DeLeon is presented the 2016 Spirit of the Games award by Invacare's Stuart Cohen at closing ceremonies of the 36th NVWG. Photo brittany martin.
Courage, determination and camaraderie was the tone at the 36th NVWG
The 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) came to a close Saturday night, highlighted by the announcement of the Spirit of the Games winner.
PVA Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. spoke about the courage and determination of all the athletes who competed in Salt Lake City, but singled out those who competed in the Super G.
“No matter where you raced this week, when you return to your home state, you will all compete in the real Super G called life,” he said.
Navy veteran Jeff DeLeon poses with his Spirit of the Games award during closing ceremonies of the 36th NVWG. Photo by Chris Ennis.
He thanked the volunteers, sponsors, coaches and most of all, the caregivers, families and loved ones.
“You are the reason why we push as hard as we can,” Gillums said. “We do it to show you that all the work you put in keeping us in the game every day does have a purpose. Our successes are the byproduct of your love and sacrifice … and we do our damnedest to make you proud.”
Stuart Cohen from Invacare was charged with announcing the Spirit of the Games winner, Navy veteran Jeff DeLeon.
“This year’s Spirit of the Games winner has been described as selfless, tireless, tremendously positive, humble, supportive, fiercely competitive and as possessing his own brand of extraordinary,” Cohen said.
DeLeon sustained a T-6 spinal-cord injury in a car accident in 1999. He first competed in the Games in 2009 and began serving as the PVA Oregon Chapter president in 2013. During that time he earned 42 medals, 37 of them gold. DeLeon’s athleticism earned him a spot on the 2012 U.S. Paralympic track and field team, the throwing javelin and discus, and he hopes to compete in air pistols or archery for 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
At this year's NVWG, he helped lead his softball team on a 10-run seventh-inning two-out rally, with his three-run home run leading his team to victory. DeLeon displayed a sense of humility as he accepted his trophy.
“Seeing the new injuries, being able talk to them, seeing their camaraderie, showing people this is how we want to compete, even though we’re competing against each other,” he said. “Obviously, I traveled around to different Games trying to get to a competitive level, and competition’s always great, but what I love about being able to come here is it’s family.”
Earlier in the week, DeLeon was asked by VA and NVWG staff what kept him motivated after he sustained a T-6 spinal-cord injury in a car accident in 1999. He follows that motto that "If everyone did what they were capable of, it wouldn’t be seen as amazing; it’d just be normal.”
“I truly mean what I say that I don’t feel like it’s amazing, it’s just normal,” he said at the closing ceremonies. “And I know every one of you out here is just normal, you do what you normally do. As long as we continue to do that, continue to make the leaps and bounds we have, I mean, it’s amazing where we’ve come from.”
DeLeon said being selected for the award took him by surprise.
“Sherman’s back here telling me, ‘You’d better not be at a loss for words,’ but I kind of am … I appreciate it, and this award really isn’t for me, it’s for everyone out there," DeLeon said. "Everyone out there has that same energy, that same willingness to cooperate, to help others, to push us forward, and for that I thank you all, and let’s go out and have some fun.”