Exercising Their Brains

Heady competition at the motor rally (trivia) NVWG event

Athletes exercised their intellectual muscles Thursday during the second full day of competition at the 42nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, in Portland, Ore.

A group of about 70 mainly power wheelchair users competed in the motor rally (trivia) event at the Museum of Science and Industry. Athletes wound their way through the exhibits and along part of the Willamette River, answering 10 questions based on the museum’s informational displays and Oregon trivia, as well as drawing playing cards at five stops to see who could get the best poker hand.

Army veteran and PVA Florida Chapter Vice President Maria Miranda Benitez, who has multiple sclerosis (MS) and a traumatic brain injury, wasn’t sure what to expect for her first time participating in the event — and in the Games. She wishes she’d competed in the Games sooner.

Maria Miranda Benitez picks a playing card to try to get the best poker hand during the motor rally (trivia) event at the 42nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Portland, Ore. (Photo by Brittany Martin).


“It was something I wanted to do, but I was scared. I was scared because of how to the control the wheelchair and because how they look at females and how they look at MS patients,” she says. “But then I see when they [other PVA members] come back, how happy they are. The board, they tell me, ‘We did this and we did that and we got so many medals.’ And I’m like, I want to go because I’m so competitive.”

The 48-year-old Miami, Fla., resident, who served from 1994 to 2005, didn’t study prior to the motor rally, but she carefully examined each exhibit to learn all she could before answering several of the questions.

“It’s a new place, and you get to learn while you’re going through,” she says. “So, yes, they give you a book, but I did not know [what the questions would be]. It’s just a great experience to find out what it is about and to learn what they’re going to bring to you. And it’s just like a new adventure. That’s just how I took it.”

She says she enjoyed getting to know the city through the museum, and it was way better than she had imagined.

“When you go home, you get to remember the place that you were, and that is better than anything you did in the Games,” she says. “Because, yes, you did all this boccia and bowling and everything else, but then you get to remember where you were.”

Maria Miranda Benitez takes a photo of the USS Blueback, a former U.S. Navy submarine that is open for tours at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Ore. (Photo by Brittany Martin).


Other events on her Games agenda were fishing, bowling and boccia.

“I will encourage more of my members to come because this is, like I said, an adventure,” she says. “That they should feel free to be here and to explore it and be in contact with other members from other chapters, and also to learn other things, to learn other techniques.”

Motor rally participant and Army veteran Angie Lupe braved the plane journey from Albany, N.Y., to compete in her 13th NVWG.

“It’s the one thing I do every year that gets me through the year,” she says. “It was a long travel and I don’t like planes, but I had to be here to be here to see everybody, all my comrades. I don’t miss this.”

The 47-year-old, who served from 1999 to 2005 and has a level C6-7 spinal-cord injury, chemical nerve damage, TBI and primary lateral sclerosis, doesn’t belong to a PVA chapter but wants to start one in New York.

Angie Lupe answers a question during the motor rally (trivia) event during the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Portland, Ore. (Photo by Brittany Martin).


She found the museum very interesting and particularly liked the section about orcas. She says the last question about the name of the North Star (Polaris) was the hardest, even after listening to a short presentation in the planetarium about some of the stars and constellations.

“I forgot it already,” she says, laughing. “I think I got everything right except the last one, which should have been the easiest because they just gave us the answer in there.”

Overall, she enjoys coming to the Games because of the camaraderie and trying to stay active. Her events included boccia, table tennis and the obstacle course known as slalom.

“These Games literally saved my life, so I keep coming back,” she says.

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