Twenty-three VAPAHCS athletes missed a recent bout of dismal weather by traveling to Honolulu, Hawaii, to compete in the 25th National Veterans Golden Age Games (NVGAG). The Games, a celebration of health and competitive spirit for Veterans 55 and older, welcomed more than 800 competitors from across the U.S. (Maine to Guam). Many of the Golden Aged Bears, led by Recreation Therapist / coach Kathy Kelley, came home with medals, but they all came home knowing they've still got what it takes.
In all, the team won 20 medals -- 8 gold, 5 silver, and 7 bronze medals -- making it one of the top five teams in the nation. One visually-impaired Veteran, Mike Buck, actually won a medal in every event he entered. With assistance from Recreation Therapist Rachel Smith, he found a vendor to teach him how to surf. With great reluctance on the vendor's part, he proved his worth, and they gave him two hours for the price of one. He successfully surfed 10 waves on the beaches of Waikiki!
It was Jack Faust's 5th straight Games, but it was the first time he'd competed since reaching his 100th birthday earlier this spring. In fact, early on Jack had to break a young man's heart after hearing him say he was the oldest athlete at 98. "Not so," said Jack. After that, some competitors mentioned it might be time to create a new age bracket for Jack, 100+, so they could have a better chance. Jack's medals this year: Gold in Shuffleboard and Gold in Wheelchair Bowling.
Kelley, team coach / Recreation Therapist, was proud to announce Jack's own team had chosen Jack to receive this year's Larry Buchheit Most Inspirational Athlete Award. "A lot of what Jack is inspires people, but the team was most excited about what Jack does. He's such a winner!"
"Our team jelled as a team should," said Kelley. "They showed up at each other's events, assisted and supported each other throughout the week, and many plan to practice and get together with each other during the year. One Vet opened his home for a team/family BBQ in August and a fundraiser kick-off to get started early. The most unlikely Veterans became great friends and supporters this week. This was our mission, and from the looks of it, everyone on the team came back with an increased sense of accomplishment, pride and confidence to venture a bit farther from their comfort zone."
The Games conclude this year's season, but the team starts now in preparation for the NVGAG coming to St. Louis in May 2012. That includes team meetings that keep the spirit alive and practicing their events -- Air Rifle, Shuffleboard, Swimming, Checkers, Dominoes, Swimming, Cycling, Shot Put, Discus, Bowling, Golf, and Table Tennis. That also includes bringing on new members of the VAPAHCS team seeking support and inspiration to improve their lives through increased social, physical, and emotional confidence and skills.