For the first time since 2002, five Maryland Veterans representing the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System participated in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, held June 25-30 in Richmond, Va. The Maryland team, known as The Chesapeake Wheelers, brought home a dozen medals and consisted of Ventura Catala from Laurel, Md.; Brian Augustyniak, from Baltimore; James Ogles, from Finksburg, Md.; Larry Hughes from Windsor Mills, Md.; and Joseph Singleton, from Columbia, Md. Joining the more than 600 Veteran athletes from across the nation as part of the weeklong event were participants from Puerto Rico and Great Britain.
Sponsored annually by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, and co-hosted this year by the McGuire VA Medical Center and the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Games showcase the athletic prowess of wheelchair athletes receiving care from VA medical centers and outpatient clinics. The Veterans participate in a variety of events such as basketball, bowling, track and field, hand cycling, air gun, archery, motorized rally, nine-ball, quad rugby, power soccer, softball, swimming, table tennis, trapshooting, weightlifting and slalom, among other sports.
"I love these Games because of what it makes me strive for and because they motivate me to never give up, never surrender to my disability or despair," says Catala, who brought home gold medals in discus and javelin and a silver medal in shot put.
Other team members of The Chesapeake Wheelers also brought home medals, including Augustyniak, who won gold medals in weight lifting and javelin and a silver in shot put; Ogles, who brought home three gold medals in archery, trapshooting and table tennis and a bronze in air rifle; Hughes, who won two gold medals in shot put and discus and a silver in javelin, and Singleton who won a gold in weightlifting and a bronze in table tennis.
The Chesapeake Wheelers group participated in air rifle, archery, discus, shot put, javelin, 200/400 meter, trapshooting, table tennis, nine-ball, wheelchair basketball, and table tennis in the hope of bringing home gold, silver and bronze medals.
"We hope to have an increasingly larger group participating every year," says Shermaine Johnson, CTRS, Supervisor of Recreation Therapy at the VA Maryland Health Care System, noting that while at the Games wheelchair athletes also share their stories and information about the array of sporting opportunities available to disabled Veterans and the need to stay active.