More than 500 disabled veterans representing 48 states traveled to Philadelphia last week for the 34th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Players competed in a variety of games, including basketball, rugby, power chair soccer, bowling and trap shooting.
“The camaraderie is tremendous,” said Fern Billet, an organizer for this year’s games. Players from around the country are drafted onto teams based on skill and experience in order to keep the games fair and competitive.
Typically, about a quarter of the participants in the Wheelchair Games are first-time competitors, like Paul Rodgers and Clarence “Buck” Keziah, both from North Carolina. The two quickly made friends with Philadelphia’s own Eugene Tatom, Sr.
Tatom, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, helped lead his team to a silver medal in basketball this year. Keziah and Rodgers both medaled in bowling, earning silver and bronze respectively. Rodgers vowed to bring more vets from his region to next year’s games.
Twenty-three regions, or Veteran’s Integrated Service Networks (VISN), were represented at the games. The network that encompasses Philadelphia, VISN 4, which includes all of Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia, took home the most gold medals (63) over the six days of competition.
VISN 12, representing the Great Lakes Region, took the most overall with 119 medals. The Sunshine Healthcare Network of VISN 8, representing Florida, Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands and parts of South Georgia, took home 107 medals. VISN 4 was third overall with 93 medals.