At the veterans hospital where I volunteer, I work closely with recovering veterans. Once a veteran can leave the hospital, I encourage them to keep active. I also encourage them not to let their handicap slow them down. I have become close to several veterans that I personally helped during their rehabilitation. Over the years, our friendships have grown and developed.
One young veteran (before deploying to Afghanistan), was a fencing champion in his hometown. On one particular visit to his home for dinner, we talked about his medals and trophies. He showed me photos of his matches and we watched home movies of the competitions. You could see the sorrow in his eyes as he sat in his wheelchair wishing he could walk again. He so wanted to enjoy this sport and fence again.
On returning home that evening, I decided to help him find his dream. I sat down on my computer searching the Internet for wheelchair fencing. I saw in 1953 Dr. Ludwig Guttmann introduced wheelchair fencing to the Stroke Mandeville International Games. The first year wheelchair fencing became part of the Paralympics Games was in 1960 in Rome.
The sports are broken down into three classifications. Category A fencers' have qualified as class 3 or 4 fencers. The athlete must have good sitting balance with or without the support of their lower limbs. The class accepts individuals with low-level spinal lesions, double above the knee amputatees, and comparable impairments to compete in category A fencing. I read category A classifications and understood this would be his category.
I searched for disabled veteran's sports center in our area to contact. I found the U.S. Department of Defense each year holds a disabled vet's sports clinic in Snowmass Village Colorado. The spots clinic success comes from volunteers who give up their vacation time and pay their way to help veterans. The clinic's held once a year and lasts 6 days. Volunteer instructors teach Nordic and Alpine skiing, rock climbing, scuba diving, trap shooting, sled hockey, and wheelchair fencing.
I started calling everyone I knew to learn how to enroll my friend in the Winter Sports Clinic. I finally convinced my friend to attend the clinic. I made all the necessary arrangements for him through the Veterans Association. After 4 calls the registration was complete. He would attend the Winter Sports Clinic in April. The military was wonderful in making all his arrangements and getting him to the Winter Sports Clinic.
While he was attending the sports clinic I was busy calling sports centers in the area who offered wheelchair fencing. The veteran's hospital directed me to the U.S. Olympic Committees Paralympics Military Program. I had a lot to learn and many questions to ask to make this dream come true. I knew this would not be easy and was determined to find a way for my friend to fence again.
The Paralympics Military Program was helpful in finding a training center in our area for my friend. While he was away at the Winter Sports Clinic I visited the sports center enrolling him in the wheelchair fencing program. Next step was to arrange transport and find the special equipment he would need. On his arrival home I could hardly wait to tell him the good news. I meet him at the airport when his plane landed. I could hardly control myself from the excitement. He had so much to say about his week in Colorado. On the way home I sat and listened as he talked about his weeks' events.
After arriving at home I had prepared a special dinner for his arrival. As we ate dinner I started to tell him about the training program for wheelchair fencing. He could not believe this as I explained his enrollment, transportation, and possibility of going to the 2016 Paralympics Olympics held in Rio. I explained to him he had to qualify in Class 3 or 4 before he could enroll in the Paralympics Military Program. I had arranged all of his equipment, transport, and enrollment. He would start his program the following week.
I attended 6 months of his training before coming to France. Once a week we speak and he sends regular emails to me. When I return to America in a few months I will visit him and attend one of his competitions. He is moving up in his class and will qualify to train soon in Texas at the Military Paralympics Center. Handicap sports are one-way of adapting to losing a limb while serving your country. I am so thankful for the help the Military gave me to make this young man's dream come true.