For some athletes competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games, the road to Rio started with an introduction from the VA Adaptive Sports Program.
Of the 289 athletes on Team USA, 34 of them, plus one guide, are military athletes. Four of them continue to serve on active duty in the U.S. Army. The Army has the largest representation with 23 athletes, seven athletes who served in the Marine Corps, three who served in the Navy and one in the Air Force.
Many of the athletes on Team USA were introduced to their sport through a VA Adaptive Sports Program. U.S. Army Veteran Lisa (Lia) Coryell developed a progressive form of multiple sclerosis that limited her mobility to a wheelchair. In 2013, she attended the VA Summer Sports Clinic, where she first tried adaptive sports and discovered her love for archery. Coryell recently earned her spot on the 2016 Paralympic Archery Team.
The Summer Sports Clinic is one of six national events that VA hosts to introduce disabled Veterans to adaptive sports and cultural arts. Other events include Wheelchair Games, the Winter Sports Clinic, the Golden Age Games, the Training-Exposure-Experience (TEE) Tournament, and the Creative Arts Festival.
More importantly, you don’t have to be a paralympian to benefit from adaptive sports. The VA provides opportunities for disabled Veterans across the country to live a more active and healthy lifestyle, develop confidence, make new friends, and most importantly to have fun.
“Overcoming physical challenges doesn’t stop at the gym. That feeling of success and accomplishment can carry over to starting a business, landing a new job, quitting smoking, or setting a personal best on the bench press – goals keep us moving. And when we’re moving, we focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. That’s the idea behind our motto – Mission ReDefined,” said Jose Llamas, community affairs officer with VA Adaptive Sports Program.
In addition to hosting national events, VA Adaptive Sports runs a grant program that provides funding to organizations to bring adaptive sports programming and events to disabled Veterans and members of the Armed Forces in their local communities.
“After attending a national VA Adaptive Sports event, the goal is to have Veterans go home and continue adaptive sports in their local community,” said Michael Welch, paralympic program specialist. “We work with non-federal partners to develop programs that will last; that are self-sustainable. We look at areas that are not served and try to put programs that meet needs that aren’t being met,” he said.
“These grants put resources into the communities where Veterans live so that they can do what they learned at the national events, but do it every day. Rehab is not just one week out of the year; it’s 52 weeks of the year. It’s every day of your life. It’s finding your new normal,” said Llamas.
Not only does the grant program fund local events, it also helps with training programs for high-level athletes who compete on a national level. The grants also help develop training materials to create new Paralympic and adaptive sport programs, including the new Paralympic badminton program, which will have its first event at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
“We are not just training disabled Veterans. We train therapists, coaches, referees, people and organizations, including VA and DOD, in how to provide adaptive sports to disabled Veterans,” said Welch.
Since the 2012 Paralympic games in London, VA has provided more than $30 million in grants to help bring high-level athletes to the Paralympics and bring adaptive sport programs to local communities.
The 2016 Paralympic Games are set to kick off on Sept. 7 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil and will be covered by NBC.
Here is a list of the athletes:
Track & Field
*Participating as a guide