Army Veteran Kristie Townsend is competing for the first time at the The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which kicked off Aug. 7 in New York. Veterans are also competing virtually from their homes through Aug. 18.

Approximately 20 percent of National Veterans Wheelchair Games’ annual competitors are “novices.” These novice Veterans are at the core mission of the program presented each year by VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). Veterans are introduced to wheelchair sports at their home VA medical center as part of their rehabilitation to improve function, independence and getting them active in their home communities in sports and fitness.

Army Veteran Kristie Townsend competes in javelin during the 40th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in New York August 7, 2021. (Photo by Emily Smallwood, Birmingham VA)

“These games are great because they introduce Veterans to a whole new world of opportunity to get out, do things and not feel so isolated or alone,” said Townsend. “Even if you have limited mobility, you can change how you do things because everyone is helpful and accommodating.”

Townsend suffered a neck injury during physical training in the Army. Complications from surgery caused nerve damage affecting her right leg that led to needing a wheelchair.

“Before my injuries, I was very social, active and independent,” she said. “After that happened, I became reserved and went into a dark place of depression.”

After her injuries, Townsend underwent rehabilitation at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center (MGVAMC) in Spokane, Wash.

“VA pulled me out of that dark place,” she said. “They showed me I can still do things and gave me the motivation I needed to move forward and get my life back.”

MGVAMC physical therapists worked with Townsend to help her learn wheelchair skills for daily function.

Army Veteran, Kristie Townsend, and Traci Rosselet, physical therapist at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., pose before an event at the 40th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in New York August 7, 2021. (Photo by Emily Smallwood, Birmingham VA)

“Kristie has made an amazing transformation,” said Traci Rosselet, physical therapist at MGVAMC and Townsend’s coach for the Games. “She had a lot of anxiety about getting out and doing much of anything, but she has really blossomed in the last two years after gaining her confidence through learning wheelchair skills and finding her ability to do things.”

Rosselet said she introduced Townsend to the Games to build on the progress she’d made during her rehabilitation.

“These games really help with confidence building when you’re unsure of yourself and start doubting your abilities,” said Townsend. “I didn’t realize there were so many opportunities to try different events, find new skills and meet other Veterans with disabilities. It has been an amazing experience.”

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the world’s largest annual wheelchair sporting events solely for disabled military Veterans. VA therapists turn to adaptive sports to help Veterans become more active in their lives and communities. Over the years, thousands of Veterans with disabilities have gained the skills, confidence and experience to take on challenges as an opportunity instead of as a limitation.

By Emily Smallwood is a public affairs specialist at the Birmingham VA Health Care System

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Published on Aug. 12, 2021

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