More than four decades ago, Rory Cooper was forced to take a new direction in life. The Army sergeant was hit by a truck in 1980 while riding his bicycle in Germany, as part of physical training with the 5th Signal Command, U.S. Army Europe. A spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the waist down. Now, Cooper will be participating in the 40th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which begin in New York City, August 7-14 with an assortment of adaptive sports. This year will mark the 36th time he has competed in the event, winning more than 250 medals in all.

To him, the wheelchair games have been both “life altering and life sustaining.”

‘Made a lasting impression on me’

“Tim Davis, now a retired Marine, convinced me to attend the games for the first time in 1983,” said Cooper, who will compete in table tennis, slalom and swimming. “The support that I received there from my fellow Veterans, volunteers and VA staff made a lasting impression on me to stay healthy, assist other Veterans and to strive to continue to serve my country. As time progressed, the games have become an opportunity to motivate, assist, advise and coach other Veterans, and to serve as a model of what VA can achieve at its best.”

VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) co-present the event, with VA NY Harbor Healthcare System hosting the 2021 Wheelchair Games – the world’s largest annual wheelchair sports event solely for Veterans.

Veterans will be participating in 21 adaptive sports and recreational events in the “Big Apple” and at-home from their communities across the nation. The games mark a major milestone of 40 years of empowering the nation’s Veterans to live happy and healthy lives through adaptive sports and recreation.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are open to all Veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, multiple sclerosis, or other central neurological conditions who require a wheelchair for athletic competition. Every year, hundreds of American heroes from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the post-9/11 era compete in this celebration of courage and friendship. The event demonstrates the unstoppable character of Veterans and seeks to foster wider respect for all people with disabilities.

This year’s games also coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Participants will be visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum to honor the victims of the attacks.

Games foster feelings of camaraderie among Veterans

Brent Garlic, who was paralyzed in a truck accident while serving in the Army in California in 2000, will be competing in the National Veteran’s Wheelchair Games for the third time. Having once dreamed of playing in the NBA, he will take part in basketball, softball, powerlifting and nine ball. The latter is a game of rotation where the object is to pocket the balls in numerical order.

Any experience where Garlic can reconnect with many old friends and teammates, as well as meet new soldiers and Veterans, never gets old for him, he said. He sees the Wheelchair Games as a time of camaraderie and kinship with the other competitors because of everyone’s drive to participate in sports and recreational activities despite their disabilities.

“Nobody really talks about all of the medals they earn,” Garlic said. “Winning the team sports seem to be the biggest deal. The military is a team sport, and it’s always been a competition with everything we’ve done. Some of us have always had that competitive drive, some had it drilled into their minds.”

Opening ceremonies for the 2021 National Veterans Wheelchair Games will be held virtually on VA’s @Sports4Vets Facebook page on Aug. 7 at 5 p.m. EDT.

Follow @Sports4Vets on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all week for more of the daily events.

By Mike Richman is a senior writer/editor for VA Research Communications

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Published on Aug. 6, 2021

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