How do you prepare for the world's largest annual wheelchair competition?
"Our team started working two years ago," said Jeanene LeSure, local host coordinator at James A. Haley VA Medical Center.
But now, time is short.
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, here in Tampa for the first time, will be July 13-18. The event will bring more than 500 veterans to compete in events such as quad rugby, javelin, swimming, basketball, handcycling and table tennis.
"In the competitions, veterans push themselves beyond what they do in the therapeutic environment," said LeSure, who is also a recreational therapist at Haley. "It shows them what they can do, and they no longer focus on what they can't."
To pull it off, many volunteers are still needed. Recruiters are halfway to the goal of 3,000 volunteers.
This week, Danielle Hester, a voluntary service specialist at Haley, set up a table at a job fair at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. She handed out about 100 applications and told those passing by how they could help.
They could greet veterans at the airport and hotels and help with luggage, she told them. Volunteers will drive veterans to games and help others get on and off buses. They will help announce games, keep score and time events. They will sell food and hand out water.
The competing veterans use wheelchairs because of spinal cord injuries, neurological conditions, amputations and other mobility impairments.
The games started as a way for veterans to focus on their abilities and work on rehabilitation through competition.
It's the second time the event has been in Florida since it began in 1981. In 1985 the Paralyzed Veterans of America joined the Department of Veterans Affairs as co-sponsors for the games.
Veterans will compete in 18 competitive events and two exhibition events. Local hosts picked the exhibition events for this year — tennis and adaptive water skiing, the latter a nod to Tampa's proximity to water.
Events will be held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Raymond James Stadium, Lake Seminole Park, Hillsborough Community College, Silver Dollar Shooters Club, Pin Chasers, Jefferson High School, the Clearwater Long Center, the Riverwalk and the Tampa Convention Center, where competitions, ceremonies and the expo will be held.
City officials anticipate more than 2,000 visitors to Tampa for the event.
Volunteers must be at least 14 and sign up for a four-hour shift between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. The games are free and the public is welcome to celebrate the veterans serving as what organizers call "fans in the stands."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.