Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Local Disabled Veterans Bring Home the Gold

July 24, 2009

29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games

HOUSTON – A wide range of disabilities could not stop five local wheelchair athletes from bringing home those coveted gold and silver medals from the 29th  National Veterans Wheelchair Games held in Spokane, Washington. The athletes are all disabled Veterans who receive their health care at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC).

Veterans from the MEDVAMC have participated in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games since 1981.  The local Veterans, competing under the team name “Texas Blasters,” this year included David Fowler, 48, an Army Veteran from Katy; Rebecca Johnson, 54, an Army Veteran from Houston; Esteban Montes, 56, an Army Veteran from Houston; Franklynn Ellis, 38, a Navy Veteran from Wharton; and Kevin Kuddes, 39, an Army Veteran from College Station.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), are open to all U.S. military Veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments. 

At the Games, Veterans competed in 17 different sports, including air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, field, handcycling, nineball, a motorized wheelchair relay, power soccer, quad rugby, softball, swimming, table tennis, track and field, trapshooting, weightlifting and wheelchair slalom. For the third year, standup events were held in archery and table tennis for athletes who have amputations and choose to compete using prosthetic devices instead of their wheelchairs.

“The National Veterans Wheelchair Games give our disabled Veterans the opportunity to enjoy rigorous athletic competition. Every year, these heroes demonstrate their talent, stamina, and determination at this outstanding event, the same qualities they exhibited when helping preserve our nation’s freedom” said Blase A. Carabello, M.D., F.A.C.C., acting MEDVAMC director.

"If it were not for the Games, I don't know where I would be right now," said Johnson who won four gold and one silver medal. "I grow and become stronger every time I compete. I always look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones."

Sports are important in the therapy used to treat many disabilities. For many injured Veterans, the Wheelchair Games provide their first exposure to wheelchair athletics. VA is a recognized leader in rehabilitative and recreational therapies, and operates more than 1,400 sites of care, including 153 medical centers.

"This was my first time participating in the Games, and I was excited about the adventure of competing in an organized national event," said Ellis. "I rolled away with new experiences, new found friendships and a gold medal in archery."

Founded in 1946, Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered Veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of people with spinal cord injury or disease. It is a dynamic, broadbased organization with more than 19,000 members in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Spokane VA Medical Center and the Northwest Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America hosted the 2009 Games. Veterans competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games came from nearly every state, as well as Puerto Rico and Great Britain.

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