Wounded soldiers, vets suit up for Valor Games at Triangle venues

mquillin@newsobserver.comMay 19, 2013 

About 120 service members and veterans who were taken out of the action by injury will get back into the fight during this week’s Valor Games Southeast, an athletic competition to be held at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and the N.C. State Fairgrounds.

The games, started in Chicago in 2011, are being held in four regions of the country this year to make it easier for athletes to participate. The Southeast games will kick off first.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which helps fund the games along with private and corporate sponsors, promotes the events as a way for veterans and active-duty service members to stay active and connected with people who have had similar experiences.

Kendra Monden, chief of recreational therapy for the Durham VA, said people who serve in the military tend to be athletic and competitive by nature. And while those who suffer physical, visual or emotional disorders may not be able to play the same sports in the same way as they once did, they still enjoy a good game.

“These games give them a chance to have that camaraderie again,” she said.

Valor Games are one of several types of athletic events designed for vets or service members with disabilities. These games emphasize individual sports, with beginner and more advanced categories of competition.

Sports include indoor rowing, archery, power lifting, table tennis, cycling, field events, volleyball, boccia ball and, the most popular, air rifle shooting – all events in the international Paralympic Games.

Durham-based Bridge II Sports is sponsoring the Southeast games, which will draw athletes from across North Carolina and other states. Bridge II Sports is a nonprofit that provides adapted sporting opportunities for children and adults with physical challenges.

Ashley Thomas, executive director of Bridge II Sports, said she hopes the public will come and watch the games, which will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Dean Smith Center at UNC-Chapel Hill; from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University; and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

“North Carolina has a long history of support for the military, and the Valor Games Southeast is a great chance to show that support,” Thomas said.

Monden also encourages the public to attend the games, to show appreciation for veterans’ service.

“A cheerleader is always the best volunteer in my mind,” Monden said. “To get the veterans to the finish line is rewarding in itself.”

Brenda Tussler of Raleigh, who served in the Navy as a medic from 1978 to 1986, says she’s never felt like she fit in since she suffered a brain injury and hurt her back and knee in a car crash in 1984. She was all-Navy in basketball and softball in her prime, she says, and trained as a medical diver.

She’s not able to work now, but she volunteers at a local veterinary office and does what she can to stay in shape. She plans to compete next week in sitting volleyball, shot and discus, biking and rowing.

“I want to try it all,” she said.

She’d like to win, but Tussler said what she really craves is being around other service members.

“Once a soldier, always a soldier,” she said. “You never quit.”

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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