Veterans

October 11, 2013

Sports clinic helps veterans

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Henderson paddles in as he prepares to ride a wave during the National Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, which took place Sept. 12 through 22 in San Diego. The clinic provided opportunities for veterans to learn adaptive surfing, sailing, cycling, kayaking, rowing, judo and archery. More than 40 Luke Airmen volunteered to help at the clinic.

Have you ever tried running with one leg or shooting an arrow blind?

Forty-two Luke Air Force Base Airmen volunteered to help more than 100 veterans with disabilities participate in the 6th National Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic Sept. 12 through 22 in San Diego.

Staff Sgt. Krystal Hughes, 56th Contracting Squadron client systems technician, and Staff Sgt. Johnathan Hughes, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions inspector, began volunteering for the event four years ago and have organized volunteers from Luke the past three years.

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“I realized the impact we had on the veterans during my first year being involved and I wanted to continue to provide support,” Krystal Hughes said. “It’s important to give back to those who served before us. If they hadn’t made the sacrifice for us, we wouldn’t be here.”

The veterans have a range of disabilities including amputated limbs, burns, neurological disorders, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The event is a unique opportunity for veterans and active-duty service members on medical hold to come into an environment that allows them to do adaptive sports that helps them re-transition into the lives they had before their injuries,” said Tristan Heaton, Department of Veterans Affairs National Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic director.

The clinic taught veterans adaptive surfing, sailing, cycling, kayaking, rowing, judo and archery.

Retired Army Specialist Guillermo Vazquez slows the kayak as Bethany Sluder, Vazquez’s caregiver, picks up a tennis ball at the Mission Bay Yacht Club in San Diego.

In 2010, the clinic had only 10 volunteers from Luke. That number quadrupled to 42 this year.

“Luke Airmen are an amazing group of people that allow us to do a logistical move throughout the event, have volunteers at the venues and command center,” Heaton said. “Without the contingency of personnel, our program would be seriously limited in its effectiveness.”

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Michael Pence, who suffers from PTSD, lost half of his hearing, has had his right shoulder rebuilt twice and has back and neck injuries, participated in his first NDVSSC.

Veterans begin to paddle Sept. 17 at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center in San Diego, during the NDVSS clinic. The veterans have a range of disabilities from amputated limbs, burns, neurological disorders, traumatic brain injury to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This week has been great,” he said. “I had trouble getting out and being active while having PTSD. This clinic helped me realize there are a lot more activities I can do and enjoy.”

The volunteers agreed they came away from the clinic with a new perspective.

“It was amazing to see the veterans from each service show what they can do physically,” said Staff Sgt. Samantha Sarmiento, 56th Operations Support Squadron current operations scheduler. “It was astounding to see the amount of drive and persistence they have, and it reminded me to never give up.”

Retired Army Specialist Malcolm Pointer puts retired Army Staff Sgt. Jaime Luevanos in a hold while practicing judo Sept. 18 at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center.




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