Tourney Offers Disabled Vets Fun, Rehabilitation
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2009 Jeremy LeGrand, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who returned home from combat safely only to suffer a brain injury in an off-duty car accident, is learning this week that some of the best therapy is delivered on the golf course and at the bowling alley.
Jeremy LeGrand, a medically retired Army sergeant, tees off during the National Veterans TEE Tournament in and around Iowa City, Iowa. VA photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
LeGrand, who was medically retired as an Army sergeant and now lives in Earlville, Ill., is among disabled veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan participating in the National Veterans TEE Tournament.
The five-day golf-and-bowling rehabilitation program kicked off Sept. 6 in Iowa City, Iowa, and continues through the weekend at venues throughout the area.
About 150 participants in this year’s event served in conflicts from World War II to the current wars. All have visual impairments or other disabilities and receive treatment at Veterans Affairs Department medical facilities.
And as LeGrand attests, all refuse to live their lives as couch potatoes.
“I don’t want to just sit at home and play my games,” he said. “I’m an active person, and I want to get out there. I’m a worker.”
Today, LeGrand was putting himself to work at the Colonial Bowling Lanes in Iowa City. Yesterday, he tested his mettle against his fellow vets on one of several participating golf courses. That was a warm-up for the big tournament tomorrow.
VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki called the event --– in which TEE refers not just to golf, but also “Training, Exposure, Experience” -- a big part of veterans’ rehabilitation.
“Providing veterans the rehabilitation they need in order to lead a fulfilling, active life is what this event is about,” he said. “The courage of these veterans to overcome life's obstacles and soar above their physical limitations is an inspiration to all of us.”
The TEE Tournament is just one of many VA-sponsored sporting activities that use a therapeutic format to promote rehabilitation, fellowship and camaraderie among participants.
LeGrand said he gets a lot out of the time he spends talking to and learning from his fellow disabled veterans. But he makes no bones about it: he particularly enjoys the fun of competing against them in just about any venue.
He was among more than 650 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who participated in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo., earlier this year. He’s also looking forward to returning later this month to his second National Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, in San Diego.
“I am going to be in everything” offered there, he said, adding that he’s especially looking forward to building on the love of surfing he discovered there last year.
“I was laughing up a storm,” he said of his first experience on a surfboard. “I had a big smile on my face.”
As he anticipates that event, LeGrand is focusing this week on the bowling alley and golf course. He said he hopes to give his competitors a run for their money at tomorrow’s tournament.
“Yesterday I was pretty good, but not outstanding,” he said. “As for tomorrow, well, we’ll find out.”
The TEE tournament began in 1994 as a regional program for legally blind veterans, then went national last year.
“This is a really great program,” said Sandy Franks, who works at the VA Medical Center in Shreveport, La., and volunteered to help at the TEE Tournament. “It’s a real inspiration to meet these veterans.”