Paralympians Visit Wounded Servicemembers
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2006 Visiting athletes encouraged Walter Reed Army Medical Center patients yesterday to challenge every limitation that comes their way.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center patients joined Olympic and Paralympic athletes in playing three Paralympic sports during the athletes' visit there May 16. Sitting volleyball was a hit, drawing cheers and groans, depending on which side of the net the ball dropped. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"There's no such thing as a limitation, whether that's a physical limitation, a mental limitation (or) an economic limitation," soccer U.S. Paralympian Jon McCullough said, explaining that limitations are other people's perspectives. "As an individual, you can surpass any type of limitation that somebody else puts on you."
He knows this firsthand. The former Coast Guardsman suffered a brain injury that left him with little feeling in his left leg. He's been competing since the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, and served as an athlete representative for this year's Winter Games.
John Register, associate director of outreach and development for U.S. Paralympics, said the visit by the 2006 Winter Olympians and Paralympians was also a chance to thank the servicemembers.
"We really just want to say 'thank you' to the men and women in uniform that allow us to do what we do," Register said. "It's because of servicemen and women who are over there on the front lines that allow the State Department to say, 'Yes, you can go compete in foreign countries.'"
U.S. Paralympics is a division of the U. S. Olympic Committee. It also encompasses the U. S. Paralympic Military Program, which serves as a tool to help rehabilitate wounded veterans.
The military program is bringing the Paralympic sport back to its roots, Register said, in programs started by injured World War II veterans.
"When they came back with injuries, they began wheelchair sports," he said. "It grew into the Paralympic Games in 1960."
The Vietnam War brought forth another group of injured veterans who started skiing. That was the birth of the winter Paralympic games, Register added.
While the program has been in existence in some form since World War II, interest tends to lull when there's no conflict resulting in large numbers of disabling injuries, he said. Small clinics have been held to reintroduce servicemembers and their families to Paralympic sport.
Yesterday, that reintroduction had Olympic and Paralympic athletes, as well as several Walter Reed patients, taking part in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair curling and sitting volleyball. These sports, among others, are good ways to get back into life, soccer Paralympian John McCullough said.
"As far as life beyond the disability, it's just a stepping stone in getting involved in society again, believing in themselves," McCullough said. "The idea of being able to compete in sport with a physical disability allows you to recognize that you can compete in any arena outside of sport as well."
After participating in the sports offered during yesterday's visit, Walter Reed patients saw new opportunities.
"This obviously has opened my eyes to know what kind of activities are out there," Army Spc. Maxwell Ramsey, a lower left leg amputee, said. "I had a lot of fun with the & wheelchair basketball."
Ramsey, who is planning to attend wheelchair games in Alaska this July, was anxious to talk with Register, who moves well on this prosthesis.
"I've only been here at Walter Reed for two-and-a-half months, so I'm still working on walking," he said. "The way (Register is) able to walk and handle himself on his leg obviously is of great interest to me."
Shouts of friendly competition filled the Walter Reed gym as athletes and patients tried out the different sports. This sense of camaraderie and teamwork is a good investment in getting back to life after a disability, McCullough said.
Today, the visiting athletes went to the White House, where President Bush praised their spirit and the examples they set as athletes.
"At the games you showed the best values of our country," Bush said. "You were humble in victory and gracious in defeat. I want to thank you for being such great ambassadors of our country."
He added his thanks to the champions in the group, who included "the dudes and dudesses of the snowboarders," for upholding the special responsibilities the come with being a winner.