1. Hillsborough

Land O' Lakes veteran finds new purpose in adaptive sports

SYDNEY - Master Sgt. George Vera, center, of Land ‘O Lakes, shakes hands with an athlete from the Netherlands after team U.S. won the Gold medal game 29-17, Oct. 27. Defense Department photo by Senior Airman Jose Gonzalez.
Published Nov. 6, 2018

On a late Friday evening in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, the last thing on George Vera's mind was meeting royalty.

But the events of that day, and the aftermath, put Vera on a path to meet Prince Harry, the culmination of an inspirational story about recovering from the wounds of war.

It was late Aug. 7, 2015. Members of the Taliban attacked Camp Integrity, the U.S. Special Operations Forces headquarters near the Kabul airport. Vera, who now lives in Land O' Lakes, was a member of the 7th Special Forces Group, and assigned to a quick reaction force to respond to the attack, which took the life of his best friend, Army 1st Sgt. Andrew McKenna.

Risking his own life, Vera helped pull troops out of the line of fire after the Taliban attacked the camp with an explosives-laden vehicle. In the ensuing battle, he said he killed at least five insurgents.

After 30 minutes into the battle, Vera was shot four times. He survived, but was paralyzed from the stomach down.

For a guy who was used to being an active, robust Green Beret, the injury proved devastating. And the recovery, which brought him to the Tampa area to recuperate at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, was challenging.

Not just for him, but for his wife, Angela M. Vera, and daughter, Angela I. Vera.

Vera went through numerous surgeries. There were down days. But in January, he made a decision that would change his life for the better.

"I decided I wanted to try out for the Warrior Games," said Vera. The Defense Department's adaptive sports competition helps participants regain a sense of normalcy and teamwork often found missing after being wounded, ill or injured.

"My big thing is that I always liked the team concept," said Vera, 41. "I knew for me, I wasn't going to be a Special Forces guy anymore, but adaptive sports gave me that team feeling and allowed me to start getting to normality."

Vera picked up adaptive sports fairly quickly, making both the U.S. Special Operations Command's Warrior Games team as well as a spot on the U.S. entry to the Invictus Games, created in 2013 by England's Prince Harry after he witnessed the inspiration that is the Warrior Games.

Vera's glidepath to adaptive sports glory may have been short, but it wasn't easy.

"I didn't feel better," he said. "It was rough. I woke up sore all the time, but as time passed, it got better and I could do more things."

As if his own personal goal wasn't enough, Vera said he was additionally motivated by his daughter, Angela.

"It is inspirational when you have an 11-year-old daughter who won't let you lay around in bed all day," said Vera.

During the Warrior Games, held over the summer in Colorado Springs and heading to Tampa next year, Vera won gold medals in shotput and discus and earned two bronze medals in cycling.

And on Oct. 27, he was part of the U.S. wheelchair basketball team that won the gold medal at the Invictus Games, held in Sydney, Australia.

Achievement aside, it was a trip of a lifetime for Vera, and his wife and daughter, both named Angela.

"It was on our bucket list," he said.

Meeting a prince was not, but that happened as well.

"It was good to compete and win the gold medal," he said. "Prince Harry and his wife presented us with the medals. It was pretty neat."

Topping that may be tough, but Vera is not done with adaptive sports. Not only will he try to compete in both the Warrior Games and the Invictus Games next year, but as an active duty soldier, he has been assigned to a planning cell for the 2019 Warrior Games, which are coming to Tampa from June 21 to June 30 and will be hosted by SOCom.

Vera has another goal on his bucket list.

"I would like to try out for the U.S. National Paralympic Team," he said. "But I am a little older, so we'll see how it goes."


The Pentagon announced no new U.S. troop deaths last week.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 54 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel; 56 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.


  1. The number of single-family homes sold in the Tampa Bay area during August rose 2.8 percent when compared with the same month last year, according to a monthly report from Florida Realtors. (Times file photo)
    The midpoint price in the bay area rose to $250,000, which is still lower than the state and national median prices.
  2. The Aldi store located on 1551 34th St N, St. Petersburg, Florida in 2018, features its updated layout. JONES, OCTAVIO   |  Tampa Bay Times
    The store will re-open after renovations on Thursday, Sept. 26
  3. The Tampa City Council was told Thursday that it had little power to prevent a medical marijuana cultivation,  processing and dispensary approved for East Tampa. ANDREW SELSKY  |  AP
    Trulieve plans to open a facility near a recovery center. State preemption prevents the city from taking action.
  4. Stay with for the latest news and updates. Times
    The vehicle overturned a number of times and came to rest in trees beside the highway, troopers said.
  5. Patrick Thorpe, who owns part of Marti/Colon Cemetery in West Tampa, wants to start a nonprofit group to cover the costs of burial grounds that are falling into disrepair. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Architect Patrick Thorpe is working to keep old Tampa cemeteries from falling further into disrepair.
  6. A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy responding to a domestic violence call shot an unarmed 17-year-old along Skipper Road in north Tampa on March 26. The deputy thought the teen was pulling a gun. The teen was paralyzed and the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office has ruled that the deputy will not face charges. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    A Hillsborough deputy was cleared because he thought the boy, 17, had a gun. Records show how it happened.
  7. From left: Simone Till, Nicholas Sherwin, Molly Dashney and Ellois Hannah. (Photo courtesy Demmeri Gallon). Photo courtesy Demmeri Gallon
    The program is open to high school juniors and seniors.
  8. Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming is coming to Carrollwood this fall. [Courtesy of Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming]
    The Orlando-based franchise is a specialty retailer of pet food and supplies.
  9. Apex Performance is located at  4205 W Dr Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. (Photo courtesy of Sam Poole). Photo courtesy of Sam Poole.
    Workouts consist of a warm-up, weight lifting and cardio finisher.
  10. A still image from a 2014 video of Granville Ritchie's interrogation with Temple Terrace detectives the day after 9-year-old Felecia Williams vanished. He is now on trial for her murder. JAMAL THALJI  |  [Photo courtesy of WTVT-Ch. 13]
    Jurors watched his interrogation the day after Felecia Williams was last seen in 2014. “This situation is very complicated for me,” he told police.