The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are coming to Tampa, Fla.
It is a safe bet the weather in Tampa, Fla., during July will be warm, but things are sure to get even hotter when the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) get started this month.
Presented annually by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), NVWG attracts hundreds of athletes of all skill levels. Wheelchair competitors from all over the country and as far away as Great Britain are expected to compete for medals in 17 events such as basketball, quad rugby, table tennis, shooting and billiards.
However, NVWG is far more than just a sporting event. Hosted this year by Florida Gulf Coast PVA, the Games are also about friendship, better health, participation, developing skills, and trying.
“It’s not man’s ability — it’s the ability in the man. I read that someplace and always kept it in mind,” says Charlie Hayden, who took part in the first Games more than 30 years ago.
The Tampa Convention Center will be the main site for the NVWG, July 13–18. Its central location right on Tampa Bay makes it easy to take in many of the area’s wonderful attractions, including some of the best beaches in the United States.
The best way to start exploring the area is by stepping right out the door of the convention center and onto the TECO Line Streetcar.
The fully accessible streetcars have a station right in front of the Tampa Convention Center. An all-day ticket is only $5 with discounted fares of $2.50 for seniors age 65 or over, youths age 17 or younger, and those on Medicare or with disabilities. Hop on for a ride past some of the area’s top attractions including Channelside Bay Plaza, the Florida Aquarium and all the way into the popular Ybor City neighborhood.
The Tampa Bay History Center highlights hundreds of years of local history.
For more information, visit tecolinestreetcar.org.
Known as Tampa’s Latin Quarter for more than a century, Ybor City is an exotic blend of aromas, flavors, sights and sounds.
From the scent of roasting Cuban coffee early in the morning to the rhythms of Latin music late into the night, Ybor is a feast for the senses. Browse eclectic shops and art galleries or visit one of the museums. See a “hand-rolled cigar” being made or just relax and people watch with a cup of Ybor’s famous cafe con leche.
One of only two active National Historic Landmark Districts in the state of Florida, Ybor City is believed to be where the Cuban sandwich was first popularized in the United States. The sandwich is made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on Cuban bread.
For more information, visit ybor.org.
Besides great beaches Florida is also known for its amazing marine life, and Tampa is a great place to experience it.
Less than five minutes away from the convention center is the Florida Aquarium. The 250,000-square-foot facility is home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals. Visitors can see sharks in a natural coral reef setting with endangered sea turtles and more.
The aquarium also includes the Wetlands Trail, a large simulated wetlands exhibit located in a tall glass atrium. It features playful river otters, alligators and Burmese pythons.
An aquarium event not to be missed is a Wild Dolphin Cruise. The 90-minute ecotour is a chance to see some of the more than 500 bottlenose dolphins who call Tampa Bay home.
The aquarium is fully accessible, and the Wild Dolphin Cruise allows wheelchairs on board, but with some restrictions.
For more information, visit flaquarium.org.
Eat, Drink & Be Merry
You won’t have to stray far from The Florida Aquarium or Tampa Convention Center for food, shopping and entertainment.
The Channelside Bay Plaza sits next to the aquarium on the Garrison Channel. The plaza is part of the revitalized Channelside District near the Port of Tampa. It features upscale restaurants, mid-range chain restaurants, bars and a bowling alley.
One of the unique features of the plaza is it’s the home port for Carnival Cruise Lines. Visitors can sit back and relax with a meal while watching cruise ships dock, board and debark right in front of the plaza. Across the channel are freighters loading and unloading.
If you’d rather get out on the water, try a lunch, brunch or dinner cruise aboard a yacht. The 600-passenger Yacht StarShip is wheelchair accessible and offers amazing views of Tampa Bay with award-winning food.
For more information, visit channelsidebayplaza.com or yachtstarship.com.
Peek at the Past
From Native Americans and Spanish conquistadors to pioneers and railroad tycoons, the Tampa area has an amazing and diverse history.
All that and much more can be found at the Tampa Bay History Center, less than a half mile from the convention center at the end of the Tampa Riverwalk. The 60,000-square-foot facility features three floors of permanent and temporary exhibition space covering 12,000 years of Florida history, with a special focus on Tampa Bay and the Gulf Coast.
One of the unique exhibits of the center is a look at the area’s rich history in making cigars. Cigar City lets visitors experience some of that by walking through a 1920s-era cigar store and cigar factory. It’s believed to be one of the most extensive cigar memorabilia collections in the world.
Tickets are $7.95–$12.95 with a $2 discount for active or retired military members. For more information, visit tampabayhistorycenter.org.
Hit the Beach
What’s a trip to any part of Florida without a visit to some of the best beaches in the world (this is where the sunscreen and beach towel mentioned earlier come in)?
Featuring an average of 361 days of sunshine a year, it’s easy to see why Florida has earned the nickname the “Sunshine State.” There are more than a dozen beaches in the Tampa Bay area and all are about a half hour or so drive from the convention center.
One of the better known beaches in the area is Clearwater Beach. More than two miles of white, sugar-fine sand stretches along one of the region’s many barrier islands. The beach is consistently rated as one of the best in the nation by numerous publications and websites.
A great accessible feature of Clearwater Beach is the Beach Walk. The walk is a winding beachside promenade with lush landscaping, artistic touches and clear views of the beaches and Gulf of Mexico. Beach wheelchairs are available at the Main Beach Lifeguard Station, south of Pier 60.
Lifeguards are on duty from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The beach wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
For more information, go to visitclearwaterflorida.com.