These are the words that come to mind when I think about the athletes who participated in the Slalom event at the 2012 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Richmond, VA.   The Slalom competition is a test of agility, strength, skill, speed, and heart. The event is held on a gymnasium floor or other smooth surface and is defined by obstacles of different sizes which may include ramps, platforms, slopes, steps, sand & gravel pit, hurdles, textured surfaces, low-head clearance, doors, bridges, and cones around which the athlete must maneuver the chair both forward and backward.  Slalom is a timed event in which athletes are divided into classifications based on level of function.  Individuals using motorized wheelchairs are classified by hand, head (chin), and mouth controls.  In addition, athletes are also categorized into novice, masters, and open levels.

From a fan’s perspective, witnessing the Slalom event brings to mind one word: INSPIRING! As we registered athletes, and helped them prepare by duct taping their lower extremities and waists to their chairs, several 1st-timers expressed nervousness and fear about the ensuing competition.  But, as I have seen many times in the rehabilitation setting, their experienced peers helped them through it, providing advice, encouragement and support all the way to the finish line.  Fans and family members cheered loudly with hands clenched, many of us were brought to tears as the newcomers pushed and pushed to finally overcome an obstacle, appearing completely exhausted but continued to fight and finish the course, NEVER GIVING UP!

From a therapist’s perspective, witnessing the Slalom brings to mind one word: MOBILITY! These athletes may benefit from Kinesiotherapy to provide education and treatment in regards to wheelchair mobility technique; injury prevention; and overall conditioning to include strengthening, joint stabilization, endurance, and flexibility.   I encourage everyone to get involved in the games as they serve as a reminder of “why we do what we do”.  The games are a testament of determination and spirit, providing over 500 participants with a sense of community,  self-confidence, and the chance to participate in an adaptive sports experience like none other, where veterans come together to not only overcome obstacles, but continue to heal: mind, body and soul!

Note: Through the VA, there are many opportunities to be involved in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.  One may serve as a coach, volunteer, or if the games are coming to your VA, a local lead for an event (a lot of work, but absolutely worth it)!  The NVWG provides opportunities for athletes all skill levels and abilities, including 17 sports:  basketball, quad rugby, slalom, air guns, weightlifting, swimming, softball, table tennis, bowling, track, field, trapshooting, nine-ball, hand cycling, archery, bowling, and motor rally.  For more information: www.wheelchairgames.va.gov or www.pva.org.

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