Paralyzed Veterans of America National President Al Kovach Jr. speaks to an audience gathered in downtown Salt Lake City. Photo by Brittany Martin
PVA National President Al Kovach Jr. helped kick off the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in downtown Salt Lake City Monday
The crowd of volunteers, veteran supporters and media assembled in front of the Vivant Smart Home Arena in downtown Salt Lake City to hear Kovach and see a short wheelchair basketball demonstration.
Kovach took time to thank the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for their support in co-sponsoring the event.
“I have to say I’ve been involved in the Games in one iteration or another, either as an athlete or as part of PVA leadership, and I’ve never seen the collaboration like we’ve had this year with the VA,” Kovach said.
Kovach led off with a few facts about the Games.
“We’ve got 200 staff from Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA who’ve been working well over a year to put on this event, and 3,000 volunteers coming from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C., as far away as Florida, California, and 600 athletes from 50 states, Puerto Rico, Great Britain and our friends from [South] Korea, who are going to take what they learned here and take it back to Korea,” Kovach said.
“They will be participating in 18 different sports over the next six days. I also found out this morning that Salt Lake City is the smallest city in the United States that hosts the largest annual wheelchair sporting event in the world. I know we usually have a big impact on a city when we come and do these Games, no city is ever the same after we leave. I have to say, the fact you guys are so small and doing so much, we’re really going to leave a big impact on you, which is why we are so grateful for Salt Lake City’s generous acceptance and accommodation shown by your city leaders and businesses.”
Kovach shared with the audience some of PVA’s history and how the Games began.
“Following World War II, we had a lot of veterans surviving spinal-cord injuries because of the advent of antibiotics. All these guys were institutionalized, and what happens when you’re institutionalized? You get bored. So they thought they’d play a pickup game of basketball. Whoever thought that little game of pickup basketball at the VA would turn into the National Veterans Wheelchair Games?” he said. “Success of these wheelchair games has inspired others to create similar events.”
Kovach closed by reminding the audience that NVWG events are free and open to the public. The schedule can be found onwheelchairgames.org or if you download the NVWG smartphone app.