Looking back at this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games
I just returned home from attending the 40th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), which ran Aug. 7–14 in New York City.
This was an altered version of the Games that, despite all the hurdles to overcome, still provided an environment for much-needed camaraderie and friendly competition. The hurdles and modifications weren’t daunting by any stretch of the imagination, but they were, to some degree, self-inflicted.
Now, to be fair, an event the size of the NVWG is planned a year or more in advance, and with all the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic-related burdens that seemingly change day by day, the sheer planning of this event had to be daunting. To see where I’m coming from, it’s important to understand what the NVWG is like in a “normal” year.
Being one of the largest wheelchair sporting events in the world, the NVWG has had past attendances in the realm of 500 to 600 athletes, hundreds of volunteers and support staff. This year, it was different.
The total number of participants was limited and then divided into two groups, with each group competing in events for three days. Mask mandates were in effect for all involved, as well as mandatory daily COVID-19 testing. There were no government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions at the time of the Games, but out of an abundance of caution, the prearranged protocols were adhered to or even enhanced.
I spoke with many of the athletes who made the trip to New York, and all I heard was enthusiasm, and all I saw were smiles. After the restrictions and cancellations of the past year, people I spoke with were so happy that the event was taking place that COVID-19 protocols went nearly unnoticed.
The Games are co-hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). With the VA involvement in this event, I can completely understand the need to have protocols in place that may have been perceived as an overabundance of caution. The VA is constantly under the microscope and had any undesirable situation occurred, it would have been headline news for a week.
With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the varying opinions on what safety precautions needed to be in place, I’m amazed the Games took place at all, much less in a location like New York City. Kudos to both PVA and the VA for making it happen during this year of continuing uncertainties.
I mentioned in my August column that I planned on visiting a new restaurant in East Harlem, N.Y., called Contento that had the uniqueness of a conscious plan for accessibility — as two of the owners are wheelchair users. I made the visit, and it didn’t disappoint. I’ll leave it at that for now, as we’re planning a more in-depth story in a future issue of PN.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and while I was in New York, I went to the 29th floor of the Empire State Building to visit the corporate headquarters of the Bulova Corporation. Bulova has a long history with the U.S. military, PVA and PVA members. The specific connection with PVA was the Bulova School of Watchmaking and the training it provided to PVA members from its establishment in 1945 until it closed in 1993.
This visit to Bulova was arranged by David Davis, the author of the book Wheels of Courage.
David and I spent an enlightening two hours with former Bulova Corporation chief operating officer Carl Rosen. He now serves as the watch company’s official historian and provided us with a great deal of information as to why Bulova created this school to train veterans with disabilities and the overall connections between Bulova and the military over the years.
David was kind enough to write an article about Bulova and the school for this issue of PN. I hope you enjoy it.
I make it no secret that I’m more of an Omaha, Neb., kind of guy than I am New York City, but this visit was special. And I’m glad I once again had the opportunity to visit the Big Apple.