Parade of athletes and opening reception are back
As this year’s 42nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games’ (NVWG) opening ceremonies kicked off Monday night, they returned with some old traditions.
After three years of not having a wheelchair athletes’ parade or an opening reception in person, Games organizers from Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) brought back both and wheelchair athletes celebrated Fourth of July with a party atmosphere inside the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Ore.
First, wheelchair athletes rolled into Exhibition Hall C state by state — with 47 states and nearly 400 athletes represented. Some athletes were decked out in red, white and blue pants or shirts, some had PVA chapter apparel, while others wore colorful hats or had light-up wands to wave around. Afterward, they were treated to an athletes’ reception with a full barbecue meal and celebration inside Exhibition Hall E.
Leonard Powell appreciated it. An Army veteran, the 77-year-old Cupertino, Calif., resident served from 1966 to 1968 as a combat engineer and later sustained a C4 spinal-cord injury after a 2017 fall.
He’s attending his second NVWG, this time joined by his daughter, LaWanda from Sacramento, Calif., after going to last year’s in Tempe, Ariz. And he liked the atmosphere this year.
“Basically, just the camaraderie and the Games, of course. I’m not here to try to win trophies or medals or things like that. If I do, I do. But just to participate whenever I can. Win, lose or draw, it doesn’t really matter,” Powell says. “The main thing is to be able to show the country we have not stopped and we won’t quit until the good Lord takes us.”
This year marked the first athletes’ parade and live opening ceremony since 2019 in Louisville, Ky. The Games were supposed to be held in Portland in 2020, but the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced cancellation of the Games that year. They were re-scheduled in the city this year. In 2021 (New York City) and 2022 (Tempe), both the opening and closing ceremonies were done virtually.
Besides having the ceremonies in person, the Games, which run July 4-9, also brought in 96 novice veterans and a couple of new exhibition sports events (fishing and cornhole), along with pickleball being added as one of more than 20 medal sports this year. With fishing, athletes wheeled up a ramp to a huge aquarium and tried to reel in one of a handful of trout that were inside.
VA Acting Deputy Secretary Guy Kiyokawa spoke during the opening ceremony told the participants that the obstacles that they’ve faced don’t start or end at the NVWG either.
“You know these Games are about so much more about than just one week in your lives. They’re about how you live the other 51 weeks,” Kiyokawa says. “They’re about demanding more from yourselves, reaching higher, achieving more and then coming back next year better prepared. Not just enjoy but also to reclaim more of life.”
Newly elected PVA National President Robert Thomas Jr., agreed. Thomas attended his first Games in 1992 and has only missed two since. Adaptive sports have changed his life.
“I am grateful for the freedom and independence that adaptive sports have given my life,” Thomas says. “ … I would say once you’re here, you’re hooked. And it’s not just the thrill of victory and the spirit of competition, but also the camaraderie and the opportunity to just get together with old friends.”