I traveled to Orlando, Florida to volunteer at the 38th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. I spent the week working closely with the veterans and when I wasn’t volunteering, I was able to watch a variety of the 19 events.
This was the first time I had any experience working with disabled people, and I hate to say disabled because a lot of them don’t see themselves that way. I spent the week around almost 700 men and women, almost all of which rely completely on their wheelchairs. Out of those near 700 athletes, not a single one had any excuses the entire week. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but they really did give me a whole new outlook on life. They really showed true strength and have inspired me to make the most out of everything, because you never know when something could be taken away.
One of the most important relationships I gained throughout my time at the games was with a man named Lester. He came all the way from Nevada. I was assigned to his table for air rifles, so I was able to spend about 2 hours with him. After getting to know him, I learned that he was actually from Akron, Ohio and lived there until he joined the service at the age of 19. Akron is only one hour from where I am from, so it was awesome to be able to have that in common and talk about his early life memories. I was able to go back the next day and watch Lester compete in weightlifting, where he completed all 3 of his lifts!
I was also able to become friends with another volunteer! We were assigned to the same shift on opening day and ended up working most of our shifts together throughout the week. Her name was Peggy, and she was from Michigan, awful, right? Peggy and I were able to make our little state rivalry into a joke throughout the week! She and I were able to talk a lot, some about ourselves, but mostly how amazing of an experience it was to volunteer with the veterans. We became friends with 4 of the veterans from Arkansas and ended up seeing them around a lot. It was awesome to be able to remember different people throughout the week and always have a familiar face everywhere we went.
I think the most amazing part of this whole experience was how happy and appreciative the veterans were. They would thank us volunteers any chance they got, when really, we should be the ones thanking them. They always had a smile on their face and were so happy to be able to compete against their peers. Volunteers came from all over the country to help put on these games. It was such an amazing environment to be a part of because everyone was genuinely enjoying themselves.
Before this project, I had always wanted to do something with veterans. I have always had such an appreciation and admiration for them and I have always wanted to help give back in any way that I could. Volunteering at these games just made me realize how much more I want to do both for and with them. I learned about different volunteer opportunities that I can hopefully do this upcoming school year. My major will most likely lead me into working for an insurance company, and this experience has made me look into working for USAA, which is an insurance company for military members. They were also one of the sponsors of the games. I hope to spend a lot more of my future working to better the lives of those that give me the opportunity to have a great life of my own.