The 2021 National Veterans Wheelchair Games come back to New York City
The 2021 National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) occur this month, and although it’s actually taking place in the real world this year, the competition is significantly altered due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
New York City is the place to be Aug. 7–14 for a modified take on this annual competition. Competition may be what first comes to mind at an event like this, but it’s far from the whole story at the NVWG.
The first NVWG I witnessed was completely by accident. I was only eight months post-injury and was on my first trip to experience the world from a wheelchair post-rehab. I chose New Orleans as my destination and was looking forward to revisiting a city where I’d recently spent three months while attending a U.S. Navy recruiting school.
When I arrived in New Orleans during the third week of June 1990, I had an unknown special surprise waiting for me — and it wasn’t free hurricane cocktails at Pat O’Brien’s. My trip just happened to coincide with the 10th annual NVWG, and the city’s famed French Quarter was completely overtaken by veterans in wheelchairs.
If there’s a better venue to introduce the newly injured to life’s post-injury possibilities and do it in such a fun and positive way, I don’t know what it would be. I met people that week who are still close friends today, 31 years later. Competition is an important part of the Games, but for me, that takes a big back seat to the camaraderie.
This year in New York City, I have a list of places I plan to visit. When I reference distances, they’re in relation to the NVWG host hotel. These places aren’t the usual tourist spots, either; they’re places where I hope to spend time catching up with old friends and, perhaps, making a few new ones.
Just like my favorite places in New Orleans, many of the places in the Big Apple involve food or other indulgences that will pack far more calories than I will burn while competing in table tennis or billiards.
First on my list is a new restaurant called Contento (contentonyc.com). It just opened June 10 and is purported to be unique in an incredibly significant way for NVWG attendees. Owners Yannick Benjamin and George Gallego both have spinal-cord injuries and use wheelchairs.
When Benjamin and Gallego created Contento, they did so with total accessibility being their first and foremost concern. The restaurant is reported to have a fully accessible floor plan, coupled with a reasonably priced menu and wine list. If the food is good, it sounds like a winner to me.
Located at the far north end of Central Park, Contento is roughly 4 miles from the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, where many NVWG events will take place. New York City has more than 3,500 accessible taxis that would be happy to take you there, but in Manhattan traffic, I have no idea how long that may take.
Now that dinner is taken care of, how about a nice cigar and a drink in a place that evokes visions of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack? Located just a couple of blocks north of the Sheraton, the Carnegie Club (carnegie-club.com) is right across the street from the famed Carnegie Hall and is just the place for a nightcap.
The library-like look and feel of dark wood with shelves of leather bound books will surely transport you back in time. I personally look forward to spending at least one evening in this famous establishment with a few friends while partaking in some less-than-athletic behavior.
It’s probably obvious by now that an old-school steak house and retro cocktail lounge will rise above the juice bar on my list of memory-making places while visiting New York City.
No matter what place you choose and no matter where you find yourself in this world-class city, I know the camaraderie you experience with your fellow veterans will be a memory that lasts much longer than who won at table tennis.