A few weeks ago, HP attended the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Pittsburgh, PA, organized by the VA and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). HP was a proud sponsor of the games, and I was able to sit down recently with HP’s Tom Sardelis to talk about his experience at the games.
Tom, is this your first time attending the PVA Wheelchair Games?
This is my first year going to the Games – but HP has been doing it for years. HP provided financial support for the event as well as giveaways to participants, specifically kids. HP also provided volunteers onsite to support the activities. I volunteered at the Track and Field event where we helped by handing out backpacks to the kids and giving away other items from our HP booth.
Watching the wheelchair basketball games and quad rugby games was a really moving experience. The quad rugby games were particularly inspiring – what struck me as I watched was how even though the participants ended up in a disabled condition, their spirit of all-out competition is just as much intact as it ever was. These guys are playing rugby in a wheelchair and it felt just like watching the Pittsburgh Steelers play football. They were just barreling down the floor, going all out fighting for the ball, while the crowd was cheering and encouraging them on. It was a very moving experience.
Tell us about the work you did with kids at the Games:
One event was an obstacle course for wheelchair-bound children where the kids were teamed up with adults who were also wheelchair bound. The kids were doing a slalom course, heading over bumps and through doors. As the kids went through, their adult teammate would be going through it just off to the side, encouraging and providing advice as necessary.
When the event was over, all the participants were given awards and individual recognition. They called all of them up to the stage and they were given medals that they could wear around their neck. HP also provided backpacks for the kids to take home and enjoy that were filled with giveaways and toys.
What inspired you to attend?
I’ve been covering the VA for about 1.5 years on the PSG side for HP, but hadn’t heard about the Games until this year when someone who has been involved with this event for years contacted our office and asked me if I’d like to participate. As soon as I checked out the event and saw some of the pictures from previous years, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
On the personal side, I’m a godfather to a disabled grandson – he’s not wheelchair bound but he uses crutches and has physical and other disabilities. I’ve seen some of the things that he’s done through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other organizations and how those programs positively impacted him, so I wanted to contribute and be a part of the Wheelchair Games. I knew it would be a worthwhile thing to do.
This was the first time that I could fully engage with an event like this, and I’d love to do it again. It was an amazing experience and I was privileged to be able to attend. To anyone who is reading this but hasn’t been to the PVA Games, I would definitely encourage them to go if you have the opportunity. I think it’s an amazing event.
For another perspective on HP’s time at the games, here’s an interview that HP’s Catherine Barker gave at the games:
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games has grown to become the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world. Each year, the Games bring together hundreds of U.S. military Veterans who compete for medals in 17 Olympic-style events. Participation in the Games has grown from 74 athletes in 1981 to more than 500 competitors in the past several years. The Games, presented by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), are open to all U.S. military veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments. Veterans at the Games compete in events like swimming, table tennis, weightlifting, archery, air guns, basketball, nine ball, softball, quad rugby, bowling, hand-cycling, wheelchair slalom, sled hockey, power soccer, a motorized wheelchair rally, track and field and trapshooting. Athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age. Click here to learn more about the Games.