Kids Day at the NVWG

T-ball, wheelchair basketball and boccia ball were just some of the sports that Lily, a 5-year-old wheelchair user, got to play at Kids Day with the veterans mentoring

By John Groth

Lily smiles as she takes a picture with two of the veterans during Kid’s Day. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

CINCINNATI – There were so many games for Lily Delgado to play during Wednesday’s Kids Day at the 37th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

T-ball, wheelchair basketball, boccia ball and even an obstacle course left the 5-year-old wheelchair user giggling, smiling and wide-eyed afterward at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.

But what might have been even better was seeing a handful of animals, including Who Dey (the Cincinnati Bengals’ mascot), Gapper (the Cincinnati Reds’ mascot) and two pig mascots. So the bubbly girl in a pink shirt and pink wheelchair had to have a photo and a hug with each one – including her favorite.

“The [Bengal] tiger, because he was very friendly,” says Lily, who was born with spina bifida.

Lia Coryell (right) high fives one of the kids during Kids Day at the NVWG. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

She made plenty of friends, as did the other children and paralyzed veterans and volunteers who participated in Kids Day as part of the NVWG, which is sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Lily’s mom, Amy, likes exposing her daughter to a variety of different wheelchair sports and activities she could see and participate in. She’s already played T-ball in the spring at The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League in Fairfield, Ohio.

“I especially like her to see a lot of people who have disabilities and to see them doing all sorts of interesting sports and just kind of getting out there and living their life despite the challenges that they face,” Amy says. “I think it’s really good for her to have those examples in front of her.”

That’s why Amy thought registering Lily for Kids Day would be fun. Turned out it was a blast for both mother and daughter,

“It’s also nice to sometimes just get to sit back and watch and watch her becoming more independent,” says Amy, who was also joined by her 3-year-old son, Ben, and babysitter, Maria Linkugel.

It was also a blast for the wheelchair veteran athletes, including first-time NVWG participant Lia Coryell. Wheelchair veterans helped the children in each of the four sports stations. Each child was also assigned a main veteran mentor. Lily’s was Coryell.

An Army veteran, Coryell served as a truck driver from 1982-84 before she was diagnosed with progressive MS (multiple sclerosis). But the 52-year-old hasn’t let MS stop her from athletics. She’s also a Team USA Paralympic archer and just attended the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games. She’s competing in table tennis, air rifle, obstacle course and swimming events and helping out with archery, too. And she hopes to encourage other wheelchair athletes to keep participating in sports, too.

“These kids are all patients. They’re all clients. They’re all participants. But today, they got to be athletes. And that’s what changed my life – the first time somebody called me an athlete instead of a patient,” Coryell says.

Three years ago, Coryell’s attitude changed. She attended the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego because she was asked her to go and mentor younger athletes. She was 80 pounds heavier and wondered why she would want to try adaptive sports. Then, one of her training students also wanted her to go. She obliged.

“The minute I got off that plane they started calling us athletes, and I went, ‘I am not an athlete.’ I’m 50 years old. I’m not an athlete. I’m overweight. I have a disease that isn’t curable,’” Coryell says. “But then I decided you know, you can either sit here and say, you know, just kind of wait for the inevitable or you can go ahead and live your life and try to make the world a better place because in the end … it’s about this.”

And what it’s about is helping other wheelchair athletes, children and veterans alike.

She noticed Lily kept touching her chair and hoped she saw that an adult was using a wheelchair, too.  And Coryell hopes Lily continues to stick with sports and maintain that bubbly personality.

“She’s happy. She takes dance classes. She swims. She comes to these events,” says Coryell. “People just assume that these kids feel bad. And you know what? They’re just living their life the way they know how. This is their life.”

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