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9/22/2017 12:11:25 AM
Posted: 8/16/2005 5:20:03 AM EDT
Pic in the paper shows wheel chair trap shooters.

Disabilities don't keep veterans from competition

By Anita Manning, USA TODAY

Joseph Fox Sr. is a 55-year-old Vietnam veteran from Marietta, Calif., who has been in a wheelchair for 35 years. But when he competes in a trapshoot with Paralyzed Veterans of America, he's as young and fit as anyone.
Dawn Halfaker, an Army veteran, took part in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
Disabled American Veterans

"It's not about the disability," he says. "It's about the ability, that we're equal to individuals who stand and shoot trap."

Fox was among about 75 men and women who took part in the trapshoot last month in Green Bay, Wis. Founded in 1946 to benefit veterans with spinal cord damage, PVA also hosts bass fishing contests and teams up with the Department of Veterans Affairs to sponsor the annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

This year's event was earlier this summer in Minneapolis. More than 500 athletes competed in 15 events, from archery and swimming to weightlifting and quad rugby, a rough game that is the focus of the new documentary film Murderball.

"The benefit of this is they get fellas involved in the things they loved to do before their injuries," says Don Fell, director of the Wisconsin PVA. Trapshooting teams are made up of both able-bodied and disabled shooters, "because there's an obvious benefit of education both ways," he says. "They compete on an equal level from the same line. One of our best shooters is a quadriplegic. You'd be surprised at what these guys can do."

Gains, not losses

Marine Lance Cpl. James Crosby, 20, of Saugus, Mass., was wounded in the spine in a rocket attack in Iraq in March 2004. He's now active in the New England chapter of PVA and plays wheelchair basketball and softball with the NEPVA Red Sox.

"I was always involved in sports," he says, and "it's been excellent being able to travel" with his teams. "It's encouraging, inspiring to meet a lot of people, some of them worse off than you, who are getting out there."

Sports can help lift depression and get recently injured people to stop focusing on their losses, Crosby says.

While he was in the hospital, he met injured soldiers who were active and upbeat, and "I said, 'That's where I want to be.' I wanted to associate myself with people going places, not the ones who were sitting there crying over their injuries. I just said, 'My legs don't work. What do I have to do to keep on living?' "

His advice: "Never give up. Don't let your disabilities disable your lives. You can still do everything you could have done before. It just might take you a little longer."
Looking ahead

Upcoming sports and recreational
activities for injured military veterans include:

Sept. 10-11: PVA National Trapshoot Circuit, Sioux Falls, S.D.

April 2-7, 2006: National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, Snowmass Village, Colo.

July 2-8, 2006: 26th National
Veterans Wheelchair Games,

For details, or for other events open to people with disabilities:

Paralyzed Veterans of America, www.pva.org

Disabled American Veterans, www.dav.org

National Amputee Golf Association, www.nagagolf.org

National wheelchair Basketball Association, www.nwba.org

Several organizations, including regional PVA chapters, offer athletic competition and other recreational activities, and many welcome non-veterans who have physical handicaps.

That "allows everyone that has some type of physical challenge to compete," says Steve Kettenhoven, 48, of Clintonville, Wis., who has cerebral palsy. He competed in the Green Bay trapshoot and took part in a PVA bass fishing tournament last weekend in Branson, Mo. "Everyone has a competitive side he needs to release."

'I had the drive'

Bob Wilson, director of the National Amputee Golf Association, says his group is open to any amputee, but a special effort is made to reach out to veterans. The association offers golf clinics, regional tournaments and two national tournaments each year.

Wilson, 64, who lost both legs after he was wounded in Vietnam, says he wasted no time sitting at home. "I had tremendous family support, and I had the drive to say, 'I don't want to be strapped in a wheelchair all my life.' I lost my legs in February and played my first nine holes of golf that June."

He walks on artificial legs, and on the course he has a 12 handicap. "I can play golf competitively with able-bodied people," he says, adding that he repeatedly beats them.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, public facilities have to be accessible, and new single-rider golf cars make it possible for anyone to enjoy a day on the links. With new, high-tech prosthetics, "you can do whatever you want."

Sports offer "a recreation therapy that's both physical and mental," says Jim Hall of Disabled American Veterans, which, along with the VA, sponsors an annual winter sports clinic in Colorado. Events at Miracles on the Mountainside include cross-country and downhill skiing, snowmobiling, sled hockey and even scuba diving in a hotel pool.

"The participants are severely disabled vets with spinal cord injuries, amputees, brain injuries," Hall says.

Blind skiers may use long tethers attached to guides or wear radio-equipped helmets that allow voice commands.

Most skiers are young and have all the risk-taking impulses of youth. Though some are tentative at first, many of them get right into the spirit.

"One guy was clocked in excess of 60 miles per hour coming down the mountain," Hall says.

Downhill rush

The winter event can be life-altering for some veterans who return home and fall into despair. Hall recalls a young man who "had literally been housebound for four years, didn't want to do anything. He was disgusted with life and had even been suicidal."

The man had lost a leg above the knee and had not worked at using his prosthetic leg, but he finally agreed to try a run on the ski slope.

"To see this person come out, it was amazing," Hall says. "This one big guy tells him, 'You did great. Let's do it again.' The second time down, if you'd seen the smile on his face, you would not believe it was the same individual.

"From then on, he was fine. He went around talking to people. Here was this individual who was reclusive and withdrawn. That's what they're talking about: miracles on the mountainside."
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