July 24, 2017
During the third week of July 2017, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games were held in Cincinnati. This was the 37th year for the games, and the first time in the Cincinnati area. Over 600 veterans competed. It’s an event made possible by the joint efforts of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Bonnie and I both greatly respect our veterans. We, along with dozens of other volunteers, were blessed to be involved with the bowling events. One bowling venue was right down the road, Super Bowl Bellewood in Newport. I don’t go there much because, frankly, I stink at bowling. What I didn’t know at the start of the day was how much new enjoyment I would soon find on those lanes.
I am a big advocate of group recreational activity, knowing firsthand the physical and social benefits it offers. But even knowing that, I was surprised to see that process so much at work in the lives of these disabled veterans.
Like with a gentleman from Wisconsin. He told us that was the first time he had bowled since he was a kid. It didn’t look easy, throwing a bowling ball from the side of a wheel chair, especially three games in a row. Our new friend was having a hard time felling pins. If I were him I would probably be thinking about the ease of bowling with a young, able body. Or grieving the loss of leg function. But if he was thinking any such thing, it didn’t show. And nothing stopped him from making a 110% effort, then finally a strike or two before he was done.
Or the young man from New Jersey. He seemed to need cheering up, especially after an entire first game of open frames. His ball had an affinity for the gutter. I didn’t know if we would see a smile. I know I don’t smile at my own constant gutter balls. On the second game, however, he started out with a spare. Volunteers and some contestants nearby cheered like it was Bowling For Dollars and he had just won a million. As this large guy rolled back our way, he was grinning like a little kid at Christmas.
Then there was the guy from Seattle. His caregiver and friend told us that the veterans practice sports and have fitness activities together all year, not just in these games. She shared with us the difference these games were making in him. After his accident, he experienced a period of deep depression and didn’t want to do anything. But thanks to the veterans organizations paying for first-time participants at these games, this gentleman was enjoying a week full of activity.
Finally, the bowler that touched me the most was the lady who started out with a first game that was the worst. She had had difficulty finding a ball light enough to handle but with holes large enough for her fingers. And she just couldn’t get used to the motorized scooter she was using. Despite these problems she had an “I can do it” attitude. Following empty frames, she would lift the ball, peer over it down the lane, and quietly say, “This will be the one.” After her low first game, she set a goal for the next game and exceeded it. I hope she gets that medal she was after.
She set an even higher goal for game three, but fell far short of it. But she was happy she had the opportunity to compete. She was also, like the others, thankful for the volunteers. I assured her that we were likewise thankful for her and the other veterans. She wanted a picture taken together with Bonnie and me before she was off to the next event —if we didn’t mind.
Mind? Not at all. That picture will always provide a reminder of the day I finally found my mark on the bowling lanes.
[Second photograph by Kathy Stevie]