Liking The Changes

The first day of competition kicked off for the 38th National Veterans Wheelchair Games where athletes competed in archery, 9 ball and a brand new event honoring Ernie Butler

By John Groth

Rose Ganz competes in the first ever NVWG Team Challenge to honor Ernie Butler at the 38th NVWG in Orlando, Fla. on July 31, 2018. (Photo by Courtney Cooper)


Count Marine Corps veteran Marco DeLaRosa among those competitors who love the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) new archery format in 2018.

With the event indoors this year, the 46-year-old Marine Corps veteran didn’t have to deal with any of summer’s high humidity, heat or blowing winds Tuesday morning. Targets had a shorter distance, too.

It was a nice change of pace, and the cool, calm conditions inside the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., helped him record a personal-best score.

DeLaRosa finished with 276 out of a possible 300 points and liked the new indoor format. He got to stay inside in cool air conditioning and could focus more with a shorter target distance – 18 meters instead of 30- to 50-meters outdoors.

Team Texas Marco DeLaRosa, in red shirt, celebrates with teammates Brent Norris, left, Gabriel Diaz deLeon, right and Courtney Brassard, standing, after finishing with a personal-best 276 in archery at the 38th National Veterans Wheelchair Games at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by John Groth)

This is DeLaRosa’s fourth NVWG, co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and he still remembers doing archery outdoors two years ago in Salt Lake City in the blistering 100-degree temperatures.

“A lot of people get heat exhaustion, like in Salt Lake City, there was a lot of people throwing hot/cold towels over them. Right here it was perfect – close range, everything’s on a monitor, got great staff, volunteers,” said DeLaRosa, who sustained a T4-T5 injury Nov. 15, 1993, in California from a gunshot wound after trying to break up a robbery attempt at a video store. “Everybody could see everything.”

Tuesday marked the Games’ first competition day, which included a 10K handcycling race, archery, quad rugby, power soccer, air rifle, 9-ball, wheelchair basketball and the NVWG team challenge.

A member of Team Texas, DeLaRosa also had a small group of his team, including Brent Norris, Gabriel Diaz-deLeon and Courtney Brassard – cheering him on, too. They pushed him, as did some of his fellow competitors.

“That and cause the gentleman in front of me, we were feeding off each other. We talked and shared the binoculars. I beat him by a few points, not by a lot. But it felt good to shoot with somebody who knew what they were doing,” said DeLaRosa, who served from 1990-93 as an engineer as is also a member of the United States national air pistol team. “And behind me, you had Lia [Coryell], who’s on the national [Paralympic] team. We all fed off each other, which is great.”

Later that evening, despite a one-hour and 15-minute rain delay, the team challenge took place at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla., about a 45-minute drive from the convention center.

In its first year, the team challenge included a 200-yard freestyle swim, powerlifting (which consisted of a 2-minute maximum rep bench press), 5K handcycling and 200-meter dash events, with all events outdoors. Thirteen teams participated in the relay, which was in honor of former Paralyzed Veterans of America sports director Ernie Butler who recently passed away in July.

Teams were comprised of four people, with one person competing in each event. Each team also had to have one quadriplegic member.

Teams started with the swimming relay, with three teams swimming at a time, then moved to powerlifting, handcycling and track events.

PVA Gateway Chapter member and vice president Rose Ganz met Butler at the Games seven or eight years ago. He left a lasting impact on the Air Force veteran, so the 65-year-old St. Louis resident joined her chapter’s team and competed in the relay event. She’d already competed in the 10K handcycling race this morning, but nothing was stopping her from doing the 5K handcycling part of the relay at night. Not her MS. Not being legally blind in her left eye. Not even a treacherous ending hill.

“Well, Ernie Butler was a friend of mine and I knew he was getting this together. Of course, he didn’t make it. And I did it for him,” said Ganz, who served from 1979-1994 as an education specialist. “It was important to him, so I wanted to finish it for him.”

Results of the relay event will be posted Wednesday and its awards will be handed out Saturday at the Orange County Convention Center after the wheelchair basketball tournament championship game.


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