Heavyweight Sighting

Evander Holyfield visits with Air Force veteran Vienna Smith during the opening day of events at the NVWG in Dallas, Texas. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio

One major heavyweight appeared at Monday’s opening day of the 35th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Dallas

One major heavyweight appeared out of nowhere at Monday’s opening day of the 35th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) in Dallas.

Five-time world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield strolling through Southern Methodist University’s field area was one unexpected sight.

Holyfield was there with his friend Randy Manns, a 32-year-old Army veteran from Atlanta. Manns served in the Army from 1981-2012 and after checking out the NVWG in Philadelphia last year, persuaded Holyfield to take a walk with him and visit some wheelchair veterans this year.

“I come to support my friend here,” Holyfield told PN. “He’s in the military and I have family members in the military, so it’s a great cause.”

Manns acknowledged it was the best cause in the world – supporting U.S. veterans – and says Holyfield taught him to never give up on dreams. Holyfield was just as adamant about helping veterans as Manns.

Emma Burns is one of many athletes from Great Britain competing in the NVWG in Dallas, Texas. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio

“Life is about the joy of life. We have our freedom because of these veterans,” Holyfield told PN. “They protect us, so we can have a great life. So what a thing it is to come back and support somebody who put they life on the line for us.”

Casually walking among all the field participants, Holyfield and Manns caused some veterans to do a double-take before they stopped and asked him to pose for selfies, pictures and autographs.

Air Force veteran Vienna Smith certainly didn’t expect it. A Lee Summit, Mo., resident, Smith served in the Air Force from 1976-82 as an inventory management specialist before suffering an L4/L5 injury in 2009. She was ecstatic when she saw Holyfield and had a picture taken with him.

“I ran people over trying to get him,” Smith says.

Later, Holyfield visited the Sheraton Dallas Hotel, where he posed for more pictures and even took in a private air rifle lesson and shoot from Roger Sack, National Veterans Wheelchair Games match director and head air rifle official.

Sack says Holyfield hit one bulls-eye and that Holyfield had a natural feel sitting there aiming and shooting.

“I always like introducing people to new adventures. Whether it’s a dignitary or just a regular new athlete, it’s just something new to try,” Sack told PN. “He seemed to enjoy himself. It was enjoyable just to see him try something new and see him excel in something he’s normally not used to.”

Besides Holyfield’s surprise visit, two other unique sports events took place Monday.

Jessica Greene participated in one of them – a rowing exhibition at White Rock Lake in Dallas.

A 41-year-old San Jose, Calif., resident, Greene served in the U.S. Army from 1991-93 before sustaining a C7 incomplete injury in a car accident in North Carolina in 1994.

Greene loves being on the water, likes the scenery outside and says rowing is a very good exercise for her. She also likes how pulling the oar back makes her body feel.

She participated in rowing on a tandem boat in San Diego at the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic this past September. But Monday, Greene rowed with eight other wheelchair veterans on a boat – and learned how to work with the group in pulling the oar out, turning it, setting it and pulling.

She liked rowing so much she contacted her recreational therapist who put her in touch with a rowing club near San Jose that just received a bunch of adaptive gear. The event gave her a new perspective on her function and strength.

“I liked it a lot. I just want to get the right equipment to make it easier for me,” Greene says. “My left hand, I can’t really grab the oar. My arm works really well. This [left] arm is stronger, but this [left] hand is weaker … My left arm is stronger. My left hand is weaker. But my right leg works normal. I’ve recovered in odd ways.”

Later that night, London resident and Queens Guard veteran James Conway competed in boccia, which also was offered for just the second straight year.

Conway served in the Queens Guard from 1959-65 before sustaining a head injury in 1982 after a traffic accident.

After winning a gold in the Senior Masters division last year in Philadelphia, Conway returned again.

“I played last year and liked it so I thought I’d try again,” Conway says.

He loves a challenge.

“It needs more judgment and skill,” he says.

Great Britain has a handful of athletes at this year’s NVWG, including the easily-spotted red-and-pink haired Emma Burns.

Why’s it that color? Because Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, likes it.

“I met him at the Invictus Games (in London in September 2014) and he really liked my hair pink, honest. Such a nice guy,” she says. “If it’s good enough for Dave, it’s good enough for me.”

A 33-year-old, Burns served in the Royal Navy from 1997-2002 as an artificer. But in 2002 in northern Ireland, she crashed her motorbike and sustained T10 incomplete and head injuries.

Making her seventh NVWG appearance, Burns competed in Monday morning’s javelin, discus and shot put in field events at SMU. She’ll also play basketball and do trapshooting and slalom later this week.

“’I’m a thrower at home, so I always enjoy this (field events),” Burns says. “But it’s nice to be on a team as well and slalom’s just crazy. I think that’s a fair description really.”

For more information, visit Wheelchair Games online. 


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