Athletes Triumph at National Veterans Wheelchair Games

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Jerry Braun
Jerry Braun

Nearly 500 veterans racked up points and crossed finish lines at the world's largest annual wheelchair sports event, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which was held July 25-29, 2008, in Omaha, Nebraska. The competitors were military service veterans who competed in wheelchairs because of injuries, amputations, or neurological problems. They took the field in more than 15 events, within divisions of experience, age, and ability; also included were rehabilitation workshops for non-veterans, including children. The O&P EDGE profiled seven champions.

The Brauns: Masters Champions
William and Jerry Braun are an indomitable pair, on and off the field. In the last 12 years, the married couple have attended 12 straight Wheelchair Games and collected a lifetime's worth of victories. Jerry, 69, an Army veteran and self-described tomboy, surged through this year's women's events, capturing five golds. William, a 61-year-old Vietnam combat veteran of the Army and Marine Corps, took gold in two events and silver in a third. Jerry calls the Games "their favorite event" and "powerful." She said, "Once [wounded vets] get there and compete, most stay."

Alan Lewis
Alan Lewis

Alan Lewis: All About Friendship
"When you come home from Iraq, you feel a loss because you lack the camaraderie you once felt with your company," said Alan Lewis, a 26-year-old Army vet who travelled 500 miles to compete. "When I'm at [these events], although these men and women aren't necessarily the ones I fought with, I still feel a sense of camaraderie among veterans who can relate to my situation. I love to hang out with them." Lewis took home two bronzes (handcycling, table tennis) and a silver (weightlifting).

Amy Riter
Amy Riter

Amy Riter: Rookie Makes Good
"You can either get out there and do something in your wheelchair, or you can succumb to it-and that's never an option," said Amy Riter, 33, a recently paralyzed Army veteran who almost didn't compete in this year's Games, her first. She was encouraged by Holly Koester, a gold-medal athlete of previous Games, and went out for five events, taking gold in each one.

Tamara Lawter
Tamara Lawter

Tamara Lawter: Living the Possibilities A car accident ended Tamara Lawter's Army career, but it didn't touch her competitiveness. The Nebraska mother competed in her 15th Wheelchair Games this year, racking up five golds in five events, and has been instrumental in bringing sled hockey for disabled children to her community. She asserted, "When I compete in sports, I feel like a normal person. It doesn't feel like I have a disability."

David Nelson
David Nelson

David Nelson, Jr.: Nothing I Can't Do
David Nelson Jr., 46, competed in his first Games this year. Before the event, he said, "The others competing will inspire me, and I can help bring out the best in other people as well. The sky is the limit. When I compete, there is nothing I can't do." Nelson took medals in bowling (gold), discus (silver), shot put (bronze), handcycling (silver) and the 100-yard freestyle swim (gold).

Eugene Tatom
Eugene Tatom

Eugene Tatom: Sports Saved My Life
"Sports are what saved my life," said Eugene Tatom, 64, on the eve of his fourth year at the Games. "I was in great shape when I was hurt in Vietnam, and I have never stopped working to get my life back." He added, "Everyone wants to win, but to me, you don't win anything without the support and friendship of your teammates." Tatom, who captured a silver in slalom and a bronze in table tennis, also took time from training this year to work in Philadelphia to expand and increase membership in and awareness of the Games.


2008 eX3 Draws Athletes from Around the World

Michigan's beautiful summer weather set the stage for the third annual Extremity Games, eX3, where athletes from around the world living with limb loss or limb difference competed in extreme sports.

The three-day competition got under way July 24, 2008, with BMX and motocross competitions at Baja MX in Millington. Chris Ridgeway took home the gold for motocross, followed by Jason Woods and Joey Abbott, who placed second and third, respectively. In BMX, Anthony Zukowski came in first, Nicholas Foley second, and Steve Starr third.

The following morning skateboarders headed over to the South Street Skate Park in Rochester for their competition. "These skaters give it their all," said Jon Comer, a professional amputee skateboarder, who judged the competition. "It's great to see returning athletes each year and see how they have improved." Top skaters were Chris Gentry, first, Evan Strong, second, and Garry Moore, third.

Rock climbing competitors tackled the wall at Planet Rock Climbing Gym in Pontiac. Bouldering winners were Ronnie Dickson taking gold and Randall Perry taking silver. In the top rope women's division, first place went to Cara Fortunato, second place to Loi Ho, and third place to Mckayla Hanson. In the top rope men's division, Craig DeMartino took first, Brian Doyne took second, and Chad Jukes took third.

The final day of competition was marked by kayaking, wakeboarding, and mountain biking competitions, along with a pancrase exhibition, an intense cage fight between athletes of mixed martial arts.

The fierce wind made kayaking and wakeboarding increasingly difficult as the day progressed, but that didn't prevent reigning wakeboarding champion Sean Reynought from clinching first place. Billy Tonis took second, and Logan Aldridge took third. In the sit-ski division, KJ Van Der Klooster placed first, Matt Feeney second, and Chet Kuskowski third, while in the wakeboarding women's division, Nicole Roundy took the gold and Amy Purdy the silver.

The number of kayaking participants grew significantly this year, allowing Extremity Events Network to breakout a women's division. Kelly Allen won first, with Christine O'Connor in second and Brooke Artesi in third. In the men's division, Joel Berman won first, Steve Karczewski second, and Chris Ridgeway third.

The mountain bikers tackled a difficult, ten-mile course with Matt McCluskey racing to the finish first, Anthony Zukowski second, and Stephen Buchler third.

In the final round of the pancrase exhibition, Ronald Mann took first place against Ernie Paulson, who took second. Brandon Holiday took third.

"The camaraderie is awesome," said Eric Robinson, president of Extremity Events Network. "To see the connections being made and the friendships this event produces is truly rewarding to witness. There truly is a benefit to everyone to be involved in this unprecedented event."

In addition to the sporting competitions, there were free instructional clinics in skateboarding, rock climbing, wakeboarding, kayaking and mountain biking held throughout the three days.

Extremity Events Network Inc., producers of the Extremity Games, also welcomed members of the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project. The Extremity Games provide recovering wounded warriors the opportunity to compete in extreme sports as well as to educate themselves on sports that they have never tried before.

Perkins Captures PC2 Title

Two-time triathlon world champion Matt Perkins has captured the PC2 title (unilateral transtibial amputation) for the third time, dominating the category at the Vancouver Triathlon World Championships, June 7. He placed 16th overall in a competition led by Andreas Kuebler of Germany, a PC4 competitor (unilateral arm amputation or paralysis).

Perkins took the Olympic-length course in just over two hours and 38 minutes, finishing the swim in fourth place among PC2s, then sweeping the biking and running course, crossing the finish line almost 11 minutes ahead of Jonathan Bik of Sacramento, California, his nearest rival among PC2s.