Veteran Games: Day One

Veterans gather in Philadelphia for the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio

Philly native Al Kovach makes short, but smooth speech at Veteran Games

Admittedly, Paralyzed Veterans of America President Al Kovach was a bit nervous before his homecoming.

So the Philadelphia native made a short, but smooth 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games Opening Ceremony speech Tuesday night at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.

With it, he urged NVWG athletes to remember who helped them get back into competition — their physical therapists.

He certainly honored his — thanking her for her last 23 years of service to him.

It was a colorful opening ceremony featuring a record 625 athletes who will compete in 18 events.

Host state Pennsylvania wheelchair athletes went Philadelphia Eagles green for the Games.

They dressed in dark green tracksuits with a white stripe on them and donned red hats to represent the city.

Eugene Tatom Sr., was one of those Philadelphia vets looking green. The 70-year-old Marine Corps combat-injured veteran still can't believe it — and all the work involved.

"I used to take a lot of things for granted and I thought putting the Games together was nothing until we got the Games. Holy smokes!" says Tatom, who will participate in baseball, basketball, swimming, track and field events. "All our people were working constantly. It's a lot of work. Down the end, it's all worth it. It's for the vets."

Puerto Rico wheelchair athletes weren't hard to miss either. Wearing lime green shirts with a black stripe on them, they made a bright entrance.

California athletes entered with some colorful red-, purple-, and green-flashing lights clipped onto their wheelchair wheels and someone blowing a train horn.

Missouri athletes each carried an American flag as they came through, while New Mexico athletes each had one draped on their bodies.

Philadelphia NVWG organizers made the torch lighting just as entertaining with a video and the "Rocky" movie theme playing in the background.

Now come the Games, which kick off at 8 a.m. ET Wednesday with air rifle, track and field events and run through Sunday.


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