Team Kellner

Three years ago, John Kellner and four of his family members started a new NVWG tradition. They wanted to honor his older brother, Jim “Butch” Kellner, who died of a heart attack Sept. 8, 2013

By John Groth

The Kellner family poses for a portrait at the bowling competition at the NVWG. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

Three years ago, John Kellner and four of his family members started a new National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) tradition. They wanted to honor his older brother, Jim “Butch” Kellner, who died of a heart attack Sept. 8, 2013.

So, they designed some eye-catching T-shirts to keep Butch in their hearts and in the minds of others. And on Tuesday morning at Super Bowl Bellewood at the 2017 NVWG in Cincinnati, for the fourth straight year, they wore them again.

Kellner, 67, along with his younger sister Judy Brochetti, cousins Ed Good and Von Christie and baby sister Jill Moore decked themselves out in orange T-shirts with the words “Team Kellner” written on the back, above a picture Popeye’s face and upper body with blue Navy anchors surrounding the cartoon character. John’s name is written on Popeye’s left muscle, while the words “ALL PUMPED UP” are written underneath the image in capital letters. On the front, there’s a blue anchor that represents the Navy and the date that Butch died written across it.


The Kellner family shows off the back of their shirts at the bowling competition at the NVWG. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

A Ford City, Penn., resident, Kellner, is a Navy veteran, as was Butch. Kellner served from 1967-71, while Butch served from 1964-72. They also have a younger brother, Joel, and the three used to all go on weekly fishing trips in the late afternoon and evening on Joel’s pontoon boat. They’d fish in the Allegheny River in Armstrong County, catching mainly bass, catfish, walleye and occasionally musky and pike.

Kellner is glad he can pay tribute to his him.

“It means that my brother’s watching over me all the time,” says Kellner, who is competing in his sixth NVWG. “He’s a good man, a very good man, a father, grandfather. And he was probably the healthiest out of all of us. It was total shock.”

Brochetti came up with the idea for the shirts and the rest of the family members liked it.

“If you notice, Popeye didn’t have legs on his shirt,” Moore says. “That was intentional.”

Bowling kicked off the NVWG events Tuesday, and the Games run through Saturday. More than 600 wheelchair athletes are attending this year’s Games and will be competing in more than 19 sports.

Kellner is competing in a handful of events. Besides bowling, he’s also participating in archery, field events (javelin, discus and shot put) and track events (100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter wheelchair races).

Kellner sustained a T12/L1 injury in 1972 after a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania. Up until two years ago, he could still stand and transfer until he had surgery on a methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA) abscess on his spine.

Kellner’s favorite sport, though, is archery. He used to hunt and loves the sport and shoots a recurve bow instead of compound bow. His coach, Tom Hutchinson, is actually his childhood friend. They grew up together and have known each other for more than 40 years.

“I try to keep him focused, try telling him what he’s doing wrong, but he’s going to figure that out for himself,” joked Hutchinson, whose coached Kellner for the past six years.

Kellner says these Games are what keep him motivated. He visits the YMCA about five days a week, practices bowling at least four days a week and when the weather is nice he’ll practice archery and track and field a couple of days a week – all to stay in shape and prepared.

“It takes your mind off of what you can’t do and puts it on to what you can do,” Kellner says. “That’s the way I look at it.”

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