Eugene Tatom Sr. of Philadelphia was 22 years old, and almost done serving in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corps, when he stepped on a landmine.
“I had one day to go,” he recalled. Tatom’s legs were severely injured. “Doctors did piece me back together, and when I first came home, I was in the hospital for 2 and a half years.”
A visitor with a mission
One day, Tatom had a visit from a fellow veteran. He asked Tatom if he’d ever played any sports. Tatom answered that yes, he had played sports in high school. The visitor then asked if Tatom would like to participate in sports again. Tatom thought he was kidding, given that he was stuck in a hospital bed.
“I said to him ‘what are you crazy or something?'”
Tatom started to watch other vets play wheelchair ball, and saw a possibility for himself.
“Now I had a reason to go to therapy,” he said. “Eventually, I was allowed to go to the gym with the fellows.” They introduced Tatom to sport chairs, and from that point on, his sports career took off.
“I started swimming again, and track and field, and basketball,” he said.
Sports and competition as a way of life
Tatom recently competed in the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which took place in Philadelphia. He participated in seven events, and scored four gold medals, one silver and one bronze. He says sports is what keeps him mentally and physically healthy.
“Any time I get down and out, I go work out,” he said. “Without the gym, I don’t know where I would be or what I would do. I wear myself out, I go back, I can deal with anything then.”
Tatom says his purpose in life is to help others, especially young vets. He encourages them to participate in sports.
“I always tell them, I might not be as quick to get to some point, but I can still do those things, just at a slower pace,” he said.