Sometimes, life works out in such a serendipitous way. While looking for a way to kick off our new Women Veteran Athletes Initiative during Women’s History Month, we received a call from one of the center’s corporate supporters, First Data.

First Data partnered with the Center for Women Veterans last year on the well-received Women Veteran Artist Program and checked in to see if we had any veterans we’d like to nominate for their Veteran of the Game program.

Since April 2016, First Data has collaborated with the New York Mets organization to sponsor a “Veteran of the Game” at Citi Field for each of their home games. Before the start of each game, a Mets player presents the Veteran with an American flag that flew over Citi Field and a custom Mets challenge coin, while Citi Vision plays a segment showcasing the honoree’s triumphs while serving. Each season, a total of 81 Veterans representing all service branches are honored in front of tens of thousands of Mets fans.

After explaining the new Women Veteran Athletes Initiative, they wholeheartedly supported highlighting these inspirational athletes and offered to host the Initiative’s public debut at a Mets Spring Training game in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

With storyboards in hand, we set up at First Data Field with Ivanna Brown, one of the Initiative’s athletes who agreed to join us for the day. Ivanna is a paraplegic, having lost use of her legs after a debilitating accident while on active duty in the US Air Force.

The Mets event team and a group of First Data women Veteran employees walked with us around the field to the front of the pitcher’s mound where Ivanna threw out the first pitch while the announcer explained our mission and project – the crowd cheered.

Following her pitch, we were allowed to hang out in front of the dugout for a few minutes, interacting with the team. And then the amazing happened – as we followed Ivanna wheeling herself back around to the side ramp exit from the field, fans stood up in the stands, clapping heartily, whistling, and yelling “Thank you for your service.”

What a powerful moment for all of us – feeling support and recognition from the community. It really drives home how important it is to raise awareness about the service and sacrifices that women Veterans have made for our country.

Stay tuned for our next Mets game appearance on March 31 at City Field in New York featuring Candice “Kandi” Caesar. Kandi joined the US Army, excited to serve her country. A vehicle accident left her traumatized, paralyzed, and medically retired. She vowed to run again one day, and throughout her transition and recovery, she leaned on physical training to keep her going. Today, she has completed 25 marathons in 25 different states around the country, aiming for 50 out of 50 by the year 2020.

The Center for Women Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs advocates for cultural transformation to raise awareness about the service and sacrifice of women Veterans. Find us on social media using the moniker @VAWomenVets.

First Data is the global technology leader in payment technology and services solutions. With 24,000 owner-associates and operations in 36 countries, the company provides secure and innovative payment technology and services to more than six million merchants and financial institutions around the world, from small businesses to the world’s largest corporations.

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Published on Mar. 7, 2018

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