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It's been 24 years since the first athletic competition among disabled veterans in wheelchairs. 

What started the ball rolling, for what would finally become the National Veterans Rollers Rehab Games. Was the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs had long been involved in wheelchair sports. 

When the Second World War ended these veterans, disabled and recovering in VA hospitals, started playing basketball in their wheelchairs in the various medical centers. 

Then they expanded beyond rehab basketball to rehab swimming, archery, field and track events and bowling. 

Associations evolved as a result for the enthusiasm generated by these wheelchair sports. 

Now veterans in wheelchairs participate in competition and exhibitions in:- 

  • Air guns

  • Archery

  • Basketball

  • Weightlifting

  • Bowling

  • Nine ball

  • Motorized rallies

  • Exhibition power relay and trap shooting

  • Quad rugby

  • Two slaloms

  • Power chair 220 (one division for hand controls, one for head and mouth control)

  • Softball

  • Hand cycling

  • Swimming

  • Track and table tennis

Rehab veterans with disabilities including paralysis continued to use their wheelchairs to participate in sport in increasing numbers. 

In 1980, finally, the Veterans Administration set up its recreation therapy services, which focused on making people aware of how wheelchair athletics helped rehabilitation. 

Now therapists at the VA use wheelchair sports as a tool for therapeutic treatment of these disabled veterans. 

There are qualifications for competing in these wheelchair games. Not to eliminate anyone but to put them in a category with others who have similar disability levels. 

A medical exam is a requirement that helps to categorize these participants. 

If a veteran is a quadriplegic she might end up in one of three categories. 

If he is a paraplegic he will be in one of four categories. 

If an amputee participates he will according to his amputation degree, while those with such impairments as multiple sclerosis or stroke are grouped according to disability levels as well. 

1981 was a significant year for disabled veteran competitors - not on the International Year of Disabled Persons but also the first year of the formally named National Veterans Wheelchair Games. 

The first sponsor city and medical center was Richmond Virginia. 74 veterans took part in billiards, weightlifting, swimming, and table tennis. 14 states of the US were represented that year. Veterans discovered a great feeling of camaraderie with each other thanks to their common bond. 

National Veterans Wheelchair Rollers Games bring hundreds each year as participants now. The size and complexity of the games had become so vast by 1985 that medical centers were having a hard time finding the finances and other resources to host them. 

The Paralyzed Veterans of America stepped in as co-sponsor and then went to businesses to ask them if they would co-sponsor as well. 

Now these corporate sponsorships help keep the games going and growing, with more sports and increasingly greater numbers of disabled veteran participants. 

Disabled veterans in the UK became part of the games as of 1987. Now they take part each year. 

A new organization known as the British Ex- Services Wheelchair Sports Association, has hosted international rollers games in the UK three different years since 1994. 

The National Veterans Wheelchair Rollers Games has turned into the largest sports event for wheelchairs held annually anywhere on the globe. More than 500 wheelchair-bound veterans come from 46 states to take part. 

They come from Puerto Rico and the UK as well. St. Louis Missouri hosted the games in 2004, Minneapolis Minnesota in 2005 and Anchorage Alaska will host this year. As part of the 2006 games competition organizers seek 2000 or more volunteers. 

These helpers will help with transportation and meals, set up the sites of the games, keep score and times, take pictures and hand out water. 

If interested in volunteering for the games July 3rd through 8th you can apply online. Both the Veterans Administration and the PVA stay committed to these games and their rehabilitating effect on our disabled veterans. 

The author of Rehab On Rollers is Val Towley

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Source:  Article Rehab On Rollers was submitted by Val Towley for publication.

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