You’ve heard of the Olympic Games. And you’re probably familiar with the Special Olympics and the Paralympics. But have you heard of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games?
The games, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, has grown every year to become the largest annual wheelchair sports competition in the world. This year, a record number of participants — 660 athletes — have registered to compete in 17 different events that will be held from August 12 to 17 in Philadelphia.
One of the athletes is new to his sport: Ellwood “Woody” Allen of Philadelphia. During the Vietnam war, Allen served in Army and was stationed for much of his service at Fort Benning in Georgia, where he was a behavior-science specialist helping veterans returning from the war cope with what they had witnessed, what they had lost and how they would rejoin the civilian world. Two years ago, Allen lost his leg due to an infection.
After his leg was amputated, Allen was the one who needed help. As a means of recovery, he began cycling using a borrowed bike from a veterans group that sponsors adaptive sports.
Meanwhile, a Disabled American Veterans (DAV) chapter in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, was looking to donate an adaptive tricycle to a deserving vet. A member of the DAV, Bill Pinkerton, told Kristin E. Holmes of the Philadelphia Inquirer that they decided to donate a trike because, “it gives you mobility, hand-eye coordination and it gets you outside and meeting people. After trauma, you need to get out.”
A counselor at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center connected the DAV with Allen, who rejoiced over receiving the red adaptive tricycle. “The fact that they were willing to help somebody, I hate to say I feel emotional, because we’re grown men and we’re not supposed to,” Allen told Holmes.
Allen will compete as a member of the Philly Phever team at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. For him, victory will mean “not finishing last.”
MORE: Can Riding Tricycles Help These Injured Vets?