Becoming an athlete requires stamina and endurance, but when you are in a wheelchair, athletic challenges can seem overwhelming. Meeting and overcoming physical obstacles is what VA Palo Alto Health Care System's Laboratory Information Manager Rod Williams does best -- and he is an inspiration to everyone around him - including recently injured Marines.
Williams lost his ability to walk when he contracted polio at just nine-months-old. Today, he is a San Jose State University graduate with degrees in chemistry and microbiology and manages one of VA's busiest hospital laboratories. For 38 years he has played and coached local and international wheelchair basketball and even won the Paralympics Gold Medal himself in 1988.
It was because of his skills and attitude that the U.S. Marine Corps recently asked him to come to San Diego and coach the wheelchair basketball trials for the 2011 Wounded Warrior Games.
"It was truly amazing to me, not that they were Wounded Warriors playing sports, but the fact that they all, every single one of these athletes, had such tremendous spirit -- ESPRIT DECORPS -- and gung ho attitudes. It was contagious," said Williams.
The Wounded Warrior trials are designed to help wounded, ill and injured athletes prepare for the 2011 Wounded Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in May. Other events besides basketball included swimming, track and field, archery, pistol, rifle, cycling, Warrior pentathlon and volleyball. This is the second year for the games, but this year the Marines decided to include international Marines from Australia, Great Britain and the Netherlands.
According to Williams, the competition was very intense. The basketball participants were divided into four teams after the first week of training. On the day of competition, they held a "round robin" tournament in the morning and the games for the medals in the afternoon. Shouldn't surprise anyone that the team Williams coached received the gold medal.
"After the final event of the tournament, one of the oldest Veterans, a 64-year-old Vietnam Veteran, embraced one of the younger Warriors," said Williams. "They held onto each other celebrating having completed something special. Although they were generations apart in life, they knew that they were bound by something much larger than their handicap: the Marine Corps Band of Brotherhood. The trials transcend and teach them to never be a quitter, never give up, to finish the mission and to love the way of life they all swore to defend. They are MARINES," exclaimed Williams. "For all my accomplishments in life, this was an event I will always cherish."