Representing every branch of the service, from all across the country, disabled by both visible and unseen injuries — the scars of war — they came hoping to get stronger, to compete and win, or just to play.
But every single one of the 100 or so ill or injured veteran athletes who participated in Valor Games Southwest this week in San Antonio had one thing in common, said Ross Davis, event director and director of marketing for San Antonio Sports.
“For some, this is the only type of competition they do — it’s something to do and have fun,” said Davis, himself a former Paralympic athlete. “I’ve also seen people like a guy who shot archery for the first time at the Valor Games three years ago, and now he was very close to making the Paralympics team in Rio.
“So it’s a conduit for inspiration,” Davis added. “They come not knowing what’s available and they find something that sparks that flame.”
Events at the Valor Games included table tennis, rowing, power lifting, archery, boccia ball, air rifle, and cycling, with both men and women competing. Organizers work to keep standards high for each sport by partnering with the governing bodies of some sports, Davis said, which also gives those sports officials the opportunity to “find the next gold medalist.”
The Paralympics Committee asked San Antonio to serve as host city for the Southwest region four years ago. Other events are held in Chicago, Alameda, Calif., and Durham, N.C., and the program is funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Our first goal is to provide a sporting event, but the secondary goal is to really use sports as a modality for rehabilitation,” Davis said. “You learn you can achieve things in sports, you learn how to set goals, and learn that if I can accomplish something here, there’s no reason to sit on the couch – I can do things at home as well. It’s just a great method for rehab.”
This was the first Valor Games for Patrick Booker, an Army veteran from Atlanta who suffers partial paralysis due to a stroke suffered while on deployment. He says sports have not only helped him recover, but also adjust to transitioning out of the military. His goal is to become a peer support specialist or adaptive coaching assistant.
“When I get out and work with other veterans, I feel good about myself,” said Booker, who medaled in the Games’ power lifting and boccia ball events, and also competed in archery, air rifle, and rowing.
“I had a great time. I can’t wait to do this again,” he said. “The place is packed with volunteers and everybody is so nice. Some are active duty or retired veterans who want to come out and show some love, which is awesome.”
There were 300 volunteers at Valor Games, many employees from businesses like title sponsor World Car, as well as USAA and Wells Fargo.
“One of the strengths of San Antonio Sports is our volunteer corps,” Davis said. “They make it happen.”
Top image: Patrick Booker, an Army Veteran, competes in Valor Games Southwest. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.