Aquatic Center is one of several venues used for injured veterans’ games

by David McCoy

Some might think it would be difficult to go off to war and fight for their country. An even more difficult thought is that of losing a limb or even coming home paralyzed, to spend the rest of one’s life in a wheelchair.

But for a number of veterans, those were just the first couple of challenges. The next test is coming Wednesday, June 29.

The 25th National Veterans Wheelchair Games are billed as the largest wheelchair sports event in the world, drawing more than 500 athletes each year.

The University Aquatic Center will host the swimming events. Floating mats will enable a number of veterans with various disabilities to swim.

“It’s really something you can’t understand until you see it,” swimming coordinator Sharon Kimble said. “To see somebody with a spinal cord injury swim is pretty amazing.”

Kimble recruited a number of University physical therapy students to assist the athletes in getting in and out of the water.

Cindy Franzen is one of those students. She said she and other students from one of her classes helped figure out how to make the swimming competition a reality for the athletes.

“We got these mats that are pretty floaty,” Franzen said. “We transfer the patient out of their wheelchair onto this mat, and then after we get the surface around the pool wet, we’re able to slide the mat from the ledge of the pool into the water.”

Franzen said that at least 10 physical therapy students from the University have volunteered to help with the swimming competition. She said they also made brochures for the athletes after going around Minneapolis looking for handicap-friendly places to eat and do other activities.

She met with Duane Proell, the University’s recreational sports program director, to make sure the facilities were wheelchair-friendly and that the athletes could easily get in and out of the locker rooms.

Other events, such as archery, bowling, soccer and track and field, are being held at other Minneapolis-area venues.

Sharon Skoblik is the local coordinator for the games. She said the center met the needs of the swimming competition and was her first choice.

“The facility is just wonderful,” Skoblik said. “It has pizzazz. We want to make the 25th year the best ever.”