This year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games Opening Ceremony was too emotionally charged to stick to a script
By John Groth
Three-quarters of the way through the opening ceremony of the 39th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) in Louisville, Ky., emcee Phillip Brashear decided to go a little off script.
After Paralyzed Veterans of America President (PVA) David Zurfluh had finished his speech in the Kentucky International Convention Center ballroom Thursday night, Brashear, the third of three sons of the U.S.’ first African-American Navy master chief diver Carl Brashear, could’ve just raised the microphone stand up. Instead, he chose to keep it down the last 15 minutes. After all the time paralyzed veterans have had to accommodate to the world, Phillip, who served in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, thought it was time to accommodate himself to the short stand and to their world.
“Because I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I had to say more than what they gave me to say,” said Phillip in an interview afterwards. “Tonight was so awesome. I mean how can you just stick to a plain script with all this excitement, all this enthusiasm and all these heroes are in the room?”
Co-sponsored by PVA and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the 39th NVWG kicked off the start of its five-day event Thursday night with opening ceremonies.
It featured a rocking opening – with veterans rolling through a loop around attendees to a montage of rock and roll songs, then past a group of cheerleaders and three groups of mascots including the Geico Gecko, a Subway sandwich, a Great Clips shampoo bottle, a cookie and a pig.
Events begin Friday – including air rifle, trivia (motorized motor rally), quad rugby, wheelchair softball, wheelchair basketball and obstacle course (slalom) – and run until Tuesday.
The Games’ mission, as Zurfluh stated, is to demonstrate the rehabilitative, mental and physical benefit of adaptive sports and that it allows injured veterans to show their extraordinary ability to overcome adversity and achieve their goals through athletic competition.
This year, there are 640 registered athletes and Zurfluh encouraged fans and athletes alike to cheer, compete and enjoy the experience.
“I know that everyone out there will really enjoy what the next five days have to offer – the thrilling competitions, the camaraderie among athletes, getting together with old friends and making new ones,” Zurfluh said in his speech. “For the first-time attendees of the Wheelchair Games, I assure you that you will all be very moved and inspired by our veteran athletes. Basketball is usually a nail-biter until the final buzzer. And slalom provides some emotional moments that may stay with you long after this event is over.”
Phillip received a call in April asking him to be the emcee for the 39th NVWG. He had a major Kentucky connection. His dad, who became a master diver in 1970 despite having his left leg amputated after a shipboard accident four years earlier, was a Kentucky native, born in Toneyville, Ky. Carl was a 31-year Navy veteran and died in 2006 from heart and respiratory failure. There’s also the Carl M. Brashear Radcliff Veterans Center in Radcliff, about 40 miles from Louisville. Phillip arrived Thursday and said he planned to stay until Sunday when he has a motivational speech at National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md.
Southeastern Chapter PVA member and Navy veteran Eric Turman sure enjoyed the opening ceremony. A first-time NVWG participant, he left in awe.
“I loved it. It was awesome,” said Turman, who served from 1986-1995 as a paralegal before sustaining a T11-T12 injury in 2005 after a motorcycle accident in McCormick, S.C.
Turman’s recreational therapist and coach Valerie McNary at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., pushed him to attend this year and he’s glad he did. He plans on competing in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair softball, bowling and boccia ball.
“I love the atmosphere, all the different people,” Turman said. “Everybody has got a great story.”