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Veterans Seize the Day: The 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games

From July 13-18, the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games were held in Tampa, Florida. The games are presented each year by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors. HP is a proud sponsor of the games and connected me with Martha Barnett, a Competitive Archer on the USA National Team. I was able to speak recently with Martha about how she prepared for the games and her experience at the games.

First, I want to provide a little bit of background on Martha. She joined the Army reserves in 1984 and moved to active duty in 1995. She was a unit clerk and a heavy wheel operator. In 2002, Martha retired from the military. While working for the Army in Missouri, she was injured in a training exercise and injured her knee and hip. During recovery, she noticed that it was becoming more difficult to perform basic physical activities and she suffered from muscle weakness and fatigue. Soon, Martha learned that the accident triggered a dormant disease that attacked her spinal cord. In 2009, she decided to begin utilizing a wheelchair. Martha’s therapist recommended she try sports. During her first wheelchair games in 2010, she met a group of individuals that tried to convincer her to take-up archery. Finally, in March 2011, she picked up a bow for the first time. By July, Martha was representing the USA National Team at the World Championship in Italy.

1) How did you learn about the games? How many years have you attended?

Martha learned about the games through her therapist. She attended the games for the first time in 2010, where she competed in hand cycling, bowling, weight lifting, slalom, and discus. In 2011, she participated in archery, bowling, discus, and shot put. While she now focuses almost exclusively on archery, she does like to try other events in order to obtain a well-rounded experience. It enables her to meet new people and encounter different competitive atmospheres.

2) How do you prepare for the games?

Martha practices every day for five to six hours throughout the year. She strengthens and conditions her muscles specifically for each event, as a different set of muscles is often needed. She first builds and maintains the major muscles and then focuses on fine-tuning secondary muscles for each sport. This year, Martha participated in swimming events at the games, which required her to develop a whole new set of muscles. Currently, she is focusing specifically on archery as she trains for this year’s World Archery Para Championship in Thailand. She will be trying out for the team next week!

3) What is your favorite part of the games?

Martha’s favorite part is meeting new people and continuing friendships with old friends. Originally, she never thought she was a social person; however, she has quickly learned that she is more extroverted than expected. She really enjoys talking to new people and learning about their story. At the games, Martha is connected to people holding the same experiences and going through the same thing. She has made a lot of great friends that she communicated with throughout the year and sees every year at the games. They help her focus on things beyond the wheelchair and have made her think about everything she can do. Martha finds that the games are not just about the events, but also about the atmosphere and the people you meet.

Additional Background on the Games

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the largest annual wheelchair-sporting event in the world. More than 500 veteran wheelchair athletes compete in 18 sporting events as a form of rehabilitative therapy to foster better physical, mental, and social health to improve their quality of life. The Games 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. To learn more about the Games, click here. To check out this year’s photo gallery, click here.

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