NVWG’s first group of athletes enjoy experience
James Hunter was loving the High Line life.
In his first National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), the 74-year-old Army veteran and Plainfield, N.J., resident competed in the motor rally/trivia event in his power wheelchair at the High Line public park in New York City.
It was interesting. It was different. It was fun. And it was the first time he’d explored the city during the day.
“Every time we go to a games, it’s always something different and nice. We like this about everything — the hotels, the people, the greetings. I didn’t get mugged yet, so I’m cool,” joked Hunter, who sustained a spinal-cord injury (SCI) in 2002 after a fall off a ladder.
For the first group of wheelchair athletes, Monday marked the final day of their NVWG experience. Along with the motor rally/trivia event, athletes also competed in table tennis, the obstacle course known as slalom, 9-ball billiards, boccia ball and wheelchair rugby in the event sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).
They started their day, though, with the High Line. Built on a historic, elevated rail line and owned by the City of New York, the 1.45-mile High Line gives visitors a path to walk through gardens, see art and buildings of all kinds, eat and drink and socialize with people.
Wheelchair athletes stopped at 10 stations to answer trivia questions mainly about the New York City and High Line area. They also drew a poker card at five stations and vied to finish with the best hand.
Iowa resident and Army veteran Dennis Beal thought the trivia questions were hard.
“I didn’t know any of the answers. That’s what was hard about it,” says the 70-year-old Beal, a PVA Iowa Chapter member and novice NVWG attendee who has a SCI. “I think I wound up with two pair, which ain’t bad, I guess. A pair of 10s and a pair of deuces.”
Beal just wanted to get away and finally signed up for the NVWG.
He enjoyed the nature scenery and building views, along with the exercise, and plans to come to future Games. Times Square, though, had him hooked.
“Yeah, Times Square — that just blows my mind. Just everything, I mean all the lights, billboards flashing,” Beal says. “I know I got moved to a room that’s clear up on the 45th floor at the Marriott. I looked out my window, and man, it’s a nice view.”
Athletes closed their time with wheelchair rugby.
Team Blue defeated Team Red twice — recording a 35-14 victory in game one and 26-9 in game two to win the gold medal. Instead of playing in a convention center like past years, teams played with a makeshift court inside the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel’s Metropolitan Ballroom. And additional players, including Steven Lewis and Kyle Hansel, had to be recruited.
“It just seemed like fun, and it seemed like it’d get you in better shape, so if you can get out there and push for a long time, just like everything, it helps you stay physically fit,” says Lewis, a 53-year-old Army veteran who sustained a level C3-4 SCI in 2009 during neck surgery.
Lewis had a blast, scoring a try late for the Red Team, while the 31-year-old Hansel, a Marine Corps veteran, had fun, too.
“I came in not knowing anything about wheelchair rugby and tried to learn as much as I can in the first eight minutes of play. And afterwards, it was totally fun,” says Hansel, who sustained a C4-5 SCI in 2017 after being bucked off a mechanical bull in San Francisco. “Being a part of a team was definitely something fun.”