Wheelchair Games inspire physical, mental recovery for paralyzed veterans

Photo of woman throwing javelin.

The 32nd annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games, held in Richmond, Va. included more traditional events such as track and field, as well as more unique events including quad rugby and power soccer.

In the wake of a serious wound, illness or injury it can be difficult to maintain a fitness or exercise regimen, and many recovering Service members and wounded warriors face a new reality when it comes to their physical capabilities. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of sports and athletic competitions geared specifically for wounded warriors and disabled veterans, including the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which was held last week in Richmond, Va.

Hosted by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the 32nd Annual Wheelchair Games included 600 athletes competing in events including weightlifting, power soccer, softball and quad rugby. The competition also featured a motor rally and a relay race for those participants using motorized wheelchairs.

According to the website of Paralyzed Veterans of America, participation in the Wheelchair Games has both mental and physical benefits for veterans.

“The purpose of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is to provide veterans with physical disabilities an introductory experience to a variety of wheelchair sports, and expose them to numerous organized wheelchair sports and recreational activities available nationwide,” the website says. “In doing so, the Games serve to encourage veterans to become aware of their abilities and potential while promoting a spirit of healthy activity and camaraderie.”

In order to participate in the Wheelchair Games, competitors must be US Military service veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments. There is no requirement as far as amount of time served or service era, so the Wheelchair Games represent an excellent opportunity for both recent and more experienced veterans to meet and learn from one another.

While many sports included in the Wheelchair Games, such as basketball, cycling track and field, and shooting and archery, may look and sound familiar, there are also some less common events. Power soccer, for example, is the first competitive team sport designed and developed specifically for power wheelchair users. The game is played on a regulation size basketball court with two teams of four players each. Through two rounds of play, the players attempt to maneuver an oversized soccer ball to score goals.


Photo of motorized wheelchair relay.

The Wheelchair Games included several events for motorized wheelchairs, such as this relay race.

Quad rugby was adapted specifically for quadriplegics, who also play on a regulation size basketball court and attempt to carry the rugby ball across the opponent’s goal line. The slalom event is held on a gymnasium floor or other hard surface with the course running no longer than 100 meters and defined by cones around which the athlete must maneuver the chair both forward and backward. In addition, obstacles of different sizes are added and may include ramps, platforms, slopes, hurdles, textured surfaces, low-head clearance and bridges. The event can be completed in a motorized or non-motorized wheelchair.

In addition to benefitting the body and the mind, competitions such as the Wheelchair Games also provide a much-needed boost to the spirits of wounded warriors and disabled veterans. As the PVA website reads, “Since the Games began in 1981, thousands of disabled veterans have enjoyed the health benefits provided by sports participation and have revitalized the spirit of competition within themselves.”

As part of Total Force Fitness Month, we encourage all Service members and veterans to take advantage of recreational and competitive sports opportunities. Visit these sites to learn more about the Warrior Care Policy Office’s athletic reconditioning program, and the VA’s adaptive sports program. To see more photos of this year’s Games, visit the Warrior Care Facebook page.