National Competitions Encourage Veterans’ Involvement in Sports and Arts

BVL is committed to brightening and enriching veteran’s lives every day. To help achieve that goal, BVL has been a long-time sponsor of six VA Special Events — the Creative Arts Festival, the Training-Exposure-Experience Tournament, the Wheelchair Games, the Golden Age Games, and the Winter and Summer Sports Clinics.

Each of these national programs starts at the hospital level.  Patients are encouraged to pick up – for example -- an arts and crafts kit, a volleyball, or a guitar -- to encourage them to get active and involved in an activity that can provide them a mental or physical challenge to keep them engaged as they recuperate.

“We allocate a portion of the contributions we receive each year to these fantastic programs,” explains BVL Board Chairman John LaSpina.  “These events provide the impetus and the opportunity for our recuperating veterans to take up a healthy activity that can help them bridge back into society or give them a goal to create or compete at the next level.” “Through these events, a veteran in Texas is provided the opportunity to learn to downhill ski with his prosthetic leg; or a veteran from New Jersey who started out with a simple arts and crafts kit wound up a as a gold medal winner at the Creative Arts Competition,” says LaSpina.  “Imagine what a life changer that is!”

The Creative Arts Festival is an all-encompassing celebration of the various artistic endeavors including visual and performing arts, providing an opportunity for the veterans to express themselves.

“The BVL has been a sponsor of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Veterans Creative Arts Festival for decades,” said Event Director Elizabeth Mackey, in praise of the BVL’s support for the Festival. “BVL understands how the arts make a major difference in the lives of America’s Veterans.”

BVL Volunteer Paul Ehresmann (pictured left) attended a recent Creative Arts Festival in Chapel Hill, N.C., “I was so impressed with the art exhibit, there was a ton of talent in that room – really amazing… The show they put on was incredible. I know that the veterans that were here were excited to have the opportunity to display their crafts and were energized by the experience.”

The Training-Exposure-Experience Tournament, also known as the TEE Tournament, is held in Iowa City, Ia. annually and provides numerous activities for disabled veterans. Sports — including golf, kayaking, bowling and horseback riding — are modified and adapted for veterans with disabilities allowing them to take part in activities from which they were previously excluded.  Importantly, the TEE Tournament also provides these disabled veterans with a source of friendship, camaraderie, and pride.

“Helping and watching these men and women of all ages enjoy sports as we do is so rewarding,” Iowa State USBC BVL Chair Connie Rommel said about the event. “They have given their time to help us live the lives we have today, it’s appropriate that we give back to them.”

Adds Rommel, “Although we know our grants to the VA facilities go to good use, we always ask National BVL that a portion of our donations be earmarked for the TEE Tournament – so that veterans from VA facilities throughout the nation can benefit from competing here.”

Much like the TEE Tournament, the Summer and Winter Sports Clinics also provide the experience for disabled veterans to take part in seasonal sports where they usually cannot. The Summer Clinic, located in San Diego, Calif., offers adventure sports and recreational activities such as sailing, surfing, track and field events, kayaking and cycling.

“It’s so gratifying to see what the Summer Sports Clinic can do for our wounded veterans, who gave so much for us, so that we could continue to enjoy our life style while they were keeping us safe,” said San Diego-based BVL volunteer Lynn Graves (pictured right). “We spoke with some of the participants and they thanked us for the support, I said ‘No, thank you!’   But I believe we can and should do much more.  We have stepped up our BVL campaign here in San Diego and I hope and pray we beat last year’s totals.”

The Winter Clinic, in Snowmass, Colo., facilitates veterans’ ability to participate in skiing, cross country, rock climbing, scuba diving, kayaking, bowling and snowmobiling. Both seasonal clinics provide the same experience: to enrich and rehabilitate the lives of those that have given so much. “Some activities/events our veterans may have never attempted; some they have done in the past; or some that they thought they would never be able to do again. They are able to take the lessons and skills learned here and apply them at home,” noted Ft. Collins USBC representative Sandra Eckert (pictured center with VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin on the right).. “They are shown that just because they may have an illness or injury, there is no reason to give up or give in.  In many instances the Clinic is considered one of the biggest motivators to get them out and lead an active lifestyle.”

Both Graves and Eckert join Rommel in recognizing the need for and value of these national competitions as a vehicle to get veterans engaged and involved in activities that will last a lifetime.

Michigan BVL Volunteer Mark Martin explained it best, “These programs – from the Wheelchair Games to the Golden Age Games – go a long way in encouraging veterans from every state in the US to get involved in an active and healthy lifestyle.  When we give to BVL National, we know that the money we raised here in Michigan will ensure that our Michigan veterans will be able to participate and move forward through these programs.  We couldn’t give them that opportunity without our contribution to BVL National.”

Concludes Ehresmann, “"I'm a Vietnam Era veteran, and I've seen the good works of BVL firsthand.  Whether a personal or group effort, BVL is a labor of love to support our VA vets and active duty military."