Acclimating back to civilian life for many military veterans can be daunting. Finding fulfillment after retirement might be even more difficult. Our Despina Barton introduces us to a room of veterans that don’t let their handicap keep them from competing and finding comradery.
- PVA of Central Florida sent 11 athletes to compete in this years games
- Last year Orlando hosted the National Veteran Wheelchair Games
- The team will compete in 19 different events through July 16th in Kentucky
Steve kirk can fire a bullet with a single breath. Tim Wolf is the expert on the hand cycle and Johnnie Alexander is the veteran power lifter on the bench. He really enjoys…
“Kicking young people’s butt (laughter),” Alexander explained.
The 65-year old Army Veteran has done a lot of that since first starting to compete nine years ago.
“First hand-cycle race was in Germany and we did a 600 mile race in a week,” Alexander added. “First time I ever did anything, it was trial by fire.”
Flash forward to last year, Alexander became the poster child for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games that Orlando hosted.
“Johnnie Alexander has been in a wheel chair for many, many years,” Paralyzed Veterans of America Central Florida Chapter Executive Director, John DeMauro explained.
“On his third tour in Vietnam he had stepped on a mine and had severe injury to his legs.”
But the double amputee hasn’t let anyone put limits on what he can and can’t do here in Sanford as he prepares for the seven events he’ll take on later this week in this year’s wheelchair games in Kentucky.
Alexander won’t be the only one from Central Florida making the trip. There are 11 athletes going and they're working to defend their team relay championship from a year ago.
Twenty-nine year old Ashley Williams is the newcomer to the bunch. She joined the PVA six months ago.
“The slalom course it’s definitely new to me,” Williams said.” Definitely new to me, I use to swim eight hours a day so when I found out I could swim that was one of those ‘oh wow I got this.”
Ashley was hesitant to join after medically retiring from the Air Force eight years ago.
“You have friends that they understand you are in a wheelchair but you have people here who really understand the factors and other wings involved with having to live an adaptive life,” Williams added.
And they help each other out, whether it’s slipping on gloves, strapping into your chair or cheering on the sidelines, it’s a place of comfort, comradery and an undeniable spirit for these GI’s.
“Whether you only served two years or four years or you may have served for 20-30 years but there is a brotherhood there that is unbreakable,” Alexander added.
“It’s not so much about the games so much as it is about rekindling friendships, relationships, looking for people from the past telling old war stories –yeah comradery, it’s about connections.”