I love the NVWG. I love what they did for me. I love what they mean to the first-time athletes
By Charles Brown
On June 11, 1986, I sustained my spinal-cord injury (SCI) when diving into a swimming pool. After being stabilized at a local hospital, I was airlifted on a Huey helicopter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) SCI unit in Augusta, Ga.
My injury was severe enough that even after being stabilized, I wasn’t allowed to sit up past 15 degrees for six weeks. That meant I wouldn’t be able to see fireworks on the Fourth of July, sit up and enjoy my birthday two days later or really do anything until the end of July. During those early days, I remember thinking that as soon as I’m allowed to sit up, I’m going to work hard to go back to the Marine Corps and prove to everyone and myself that I wasn’t done living a full and active life.
Many things changed after those early days of rehabilitation, including no more Marine Corps. But the importance of the things I really enjoyed about July didn’t. There are many veterans and civilians living with SCI today proving you can live a full and active life. I still enjoy going out to see fireworks celebrations signifying our independence. I enjoy a birthday cake with family and friends, not always on my own birthday (getting older gets old), but the time spent with everyone still excites me.
I especially enjoy the summer activities of vacation with family or going to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). After a few years of learning to live my new “normal” life, I went to compete at my first NVWG in 1992 in Dayton, Ohio. The Games are an Olympics-style competition for U.S. veterans with SCI, amputations, multiple sclerosis or other central neurological conditions who require a wheelchair for athletic competition.
It was a life-changer for me in many ways. I’ve always been active in sports, and I’ve always enjoyed the competition. When I first arrived in Dayton, I was met by volunteers, VA staff, Paralyzed Veterans of America staff and, most importantly, my fellow veterans.
It felt like I was once again back where I belonged. I’ve enjoyed meeting many people at the NVWG over the years, have made some lifelong friends and built many memories. While I competed in several sports after my injury, only one thing brought me as much excitement or pride — when I was named the USA Boccia team captain at the 2011 Pan America Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
To be chosen as team captain for any sport for Team USA — nothing has been better. Fast forward a few years, and boccia is now a NVWG event. The sport I competed in is an official event. I was proud of that accomplishment.
But I knew I had more work to do. I stepped down as an athlete at the NVWG to become an official. You know, the ladies and gentlemen who sacrifice their bodies and personal time to help ensure the NVWG is the greatest experience a veteran could want.
It’s hard to see the competition and not want to play. These events and camaraderie bring out excitement and the desire to be active. The NVWG is held in a different city every year, and each city creates a different atmosphere. The local community is introduced to the idea of competition for those with disabilities, the fighting spirit of the warriors who come to compete and gets to help create that positive environment.
We all get involved, and we all have a positive impact on each other’s lives. This year’s Games are in Tempe, Ariz., July 7–12. And while the novel coronavirus (COVID- 19) is still a concern, the Games are important for the health of veteran athletes. These Games need to continue; they must continue.
There are limited spaces inside the venues this year, and I don’t want to prevent a family member from joining his or her mother, sister, father, brother, husband or wife. I’m going to be there like the groupie I am. I’m going to be there supporting the veteran athletes and spending time with them in a safe and responsible manner.
I love the NVWG. I love what they did for me. I love what they mean to the first-time athletes. I really love what they mean to the returning athletes. If you see me there, be sure I’m going to say, ‘Hello and welcome.’
Be sure that I’m going to do my best to ensure these Games return to the premier event that can host more than 650 athletes, any family members who want to come and as much of the local community that wants to support and experience the full NVWG impact.