PVA’s shooting program provides members with recreation, competition and, most importantly, friends.
The buzz of bullets and excitement fill the air as shooters take their mark. Members of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) are set to engage in friendly competition with a variety of rifle, pistol and trapshoot events. These veterans who use wheelchairs are competing alongside able-bodied enthusiasts in their shared passion: shooting sports.
For many veterans with spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D), shooting is an activity they’ve long enjoyed and can continue to do so. PVA encourages veterans to maximize their quality of life by pursuing the hobbies they appreciated before sustaining a SCI/D. The mutual interest of shooting and sportsmanship among so many members led to the creation of the PVA Shooting Sports Circuit.
The Able Side of Disabled
The circuit provides a wide variety of both recreational and competitive opportunities to shoot clay targets, paper targets, long-range targets and more.
Chapters all over the country have their own shooting squads and take turns hosting shoots for members from across the nation to attend. One unique aspect of this program is that it allows veterans with SCI/D to compete equally with able-bodied people.
“Everyone is paired to their class and no one is treated any differently when they are shooting. There are some wheelchair shooters that can outshoot the able-bodies,” says PVA Iowa Chapter Vice President and National Director Kenneth Lloyd. “This is a good program for getting wheelchair people out of the house that used to shoot before.”
Jim Russell, national director and shooting sports director for the PVA Cal-Diego Chapter, echoes this sentiment.
“It’s a great way to show the able-side of disabled,” he says.
Lloyd joined PVA while receiving health care from his local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital after breaking his back during a 30-foot fall in 1995. He had served with the Army in Korea during the early 1970s. When he first joined the PVA Iowa Chapter, it didn’t have any sporting programs.
Mike Olson, left, and Kenneth Lloyd, right, participate at the Iowa Paralyzed Veterans of America Tournament.
Lloyd was given the chance to participate in an all-expenses paid trip to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in San Diego, where he earned four gold medals and one silver. He returned inspired to bring these same activities and experience to his home chapter.
Utilizing His Skills
After joining the Iowa chapter’s board in 1997, Lloyd was named its sports director. While in this role, he initiated several of the chapter’s sport programs: pool tournaments, fishing, hunting, bowling and lastly, a common favorite, trapshooting.
“Our first trapshoot was very small, but the following year our chapter held the year-end shoot,” says Lloyd. “It was amazing to look down the trap range and see all the wheelchair shooters.”
Russell served with the Marine Corps for 20 years and later severed his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident. He is also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association which led to his commitment to encouraging veterans with SCI/D to leave the house and rejoin the outside world doing something they love.
“I have always enjoyed shooting and have a knack for organizing things; the shooting program allows me to utilize both of those skills,” Russell says.
Another project spearheaded by PVA was the passage of the Disabled Sportsmen’s Access Act of 1998, which increased the amount of opportunities for disabled veterans to participate in outdoor recreational activities.
PVA also donates adaptive outdoor equipment to military installations and state wildlife agencies to further expand the involvement of veterans with wheelchairs in sporting events. The chapters do their part to increase opportunities as well. Local businesses are frequently invited to participate in shoots, giving them the chance to see firsthand the benefits of getting veterans involved in their companies.
“Participating in these shoots gives businesses the chance to see us as real people,” Russell says. “They leave wanting to modify their businesses and invite veterans into their workplace, not just doing so out of obligation.”
In addition to local businesses, the chapters also invite other special guests and celebrities to take part in the shoots. One of the most memorable celebrities to have joined in the shoots is five-time Olympic medal-winner Kim Rhode.
She is the first U.S. Olympian competing in an individual sport to win five medals in five consecutive Olympic Games, doing so in double trapshooting and skeet shooting. Another special participant was American actor and World War II veteran John Russell, most noted for playing Marshal Dan Troop in the television series Lawman. He and his son, also named Jim Russell, participated in a shoot.
“John and Jim hadn’t talked to each other for around 10 years because of some sort of falling out,” Russell says. “They both came to our event, and I put them on a squad together so they would have to talk to each other. After that, they were able to have a family relationship again until John’s passing.”
Having special guests like these have helped increase awareness regarding the sporting program and encouraged more veterans to join.
A Hat With Holes
One of the greatest benefits they have experienced from becoming involved has been the camaraderie between squad members. This is a benefit Lloyd can attest to, as the shooting program has not only given him the opportunity to hone his skills, but also to form substantial friendships.
“One of my favorite memories was when I was shooting at the North Central Trapshoot in Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” Lloyd says. “I shot my first 25 straight and it is a tradition that the squad shoots your hat. I wore that hat with all the holes to several shoots after that.”
Lloyd hopes to see his chapter’s shoot participation grow even more, including at the high school level as many local schools have trapshoot teams of their own. Overall, the program has proven to be a successful way to get veterans with disabilities involved in society through outdoor shooting sports.
“It’s a great option for veterans with disabilities who have always liked the outdoors and shooting sports to get out of the house,” Russell says. “For those who didn’t do much shooting before, it can be a great way to find out if they do like these types of activities — it’s a great wholesome sport.”
For more information, visit pva.org.
Snapshot of a Shoot
There have been 14 shoots so far this year as part of the 19th Annual National Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Trap Circuit.
All are welcome to join and many ranges have guns available for rent. One of these events was the PVA Cal-Diego’s 27th Annual Small Arms Shoot, which took place March 27–29 in Riverside County, Calif.
Participants are provided with transportation to the ranges each day, most breakfasts and lunches and practice time before each competition begins. The timeline below highlights what a participant can expect from a PVA shoot.
9 a.m. – The center fire pistol competition commences, which consists of 50 rounds, iron sights only and any pistol larger than a .22 caliber and up to a .45 caliber. There are six rounds of competition, three slow fire and three quick fire.
Early afternoon – The center fire rifle shoot consists of 25 rounds, iron sights only and any rifle larger than a .22 caliber up to a .45 caliber. There are four rounds of competition: two slow fire and two timed fire.
1–5 p.m. – Trap practice
4–5 p.m. – Welcome reception at the range
Saturday and Sunday
10 a.m.–4 p.m. – There is a trap competition both days: 50 singles, 50 handicap and 25 pair doubles.
The shoot concludes Sunday with an awards ceremony at the range for the pistol, rifle and trap events.