CAPE COD - Veterans from four wars gathered on Cape Cod for a weekend of adaptive sports, healing, and camaraderie during the tenth annual Sport and Spirit Weekend sponsored by Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and the Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers (SASC). Ranging in age from 87 to 37, 45 veterans and 45 companions spent the weekend engaging in activities designed to transcend limitations caused by wounds of war and aging.
Spaulding created Sport and Spirit to facilitate return to life after serious injury for wounded soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at a time when few such opportunities existed. Today, the event includes Vietnam-era vets living with the impacts of their wounds who are also confronting the challenges of aging. This year a contingent of Korean War Veterans from Delaware traveled to the Cape to dedicate a specialized piece of adaptive equipment they donated to Spaulding’s McGraw Center for Adaptive Sports.
Called a Trac Chair, the power wheelchair features tread that allows it to traverse uneven terrain, so that vets with limited mobility can access hiking trails, fish, hunt and enjoy other sporting activities.
“It allows the person to take different kinds of terrain in stride and to feel at home,” said John Widenhof, Chairman of Wounded Warrior Fund, Bill Carr Chapter 1 KWVA, Delaware, which donated $17,000 to purchase the specially outfitted, all-terrain, wheelchair.
“It removes obstacles, opens up the world,” agreed Chris Young, 56, of Falmouth. Paralyzed in a plane crash while serving in the US Coast Guard in 1982, Young is a multi-medal Paralympic winner, competing most recently in the Sochi Winter Games in 2014. He was one of three Paralympic veterans who served as mentors during the weekend.
“Sand and trails and gravel and mud. I’m not limited to watching people go play and have fun. With the Trac Chair, I can go too,” he said.
David Santamore, who served in Vietnam 1972-73 as a US Marine, returned to Sport and Spirit with his wife, Kay. Though he appreciates all the adaptations that make cycling, kayaking and archery possible with his prosthetic leg, it’s the involvement of family that makes this event stand out. “It’s a good group, a good opportunity to kick back and enjoy with family and friends,” he said. “It’s very inclusive of family, and that’s really special.”
Being able to recreate with family and friends is a central principle of Spaulding’s adaptive sports program, which began in 2001 with adaptive golf. Through a common love of sport, people with disabling conditions find common ground and the skills to participate with family members in activities that improve health, build confidence, reduce isolation, and engage with the wider community. For veterans, the need to find an accepting community is especially important, notes Mary Patstone, Network Director of the Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers.
“These soldiers are out there trying to survive every day. They can’t do it alone. They need their support systems, they need each other. From the beginning this weekend has included spouses, significant others, companions. They help each other, they learn from each other, they learn what’s possible, and they take that knowledge home. It’s a privilege for our whole team to play a part in this process,” Patstone said.
In addition to the activities offered at Camp Wingate Kirkland, veterans and family members enjoyed the Cape Cod Rail Trail using specialized recumbent cycles available at Spaulding’s McGraw Center for Adaptive Sports at Nickerson State Park. They also golfed and experienced the thrill of deep sea fishing.
For Josh Elliott, 37 of San Diego, CA, the opportunity to introduce other vets to a range of activities in such a beautiful part of the country is part of the weekend’s appeal. This was his third trip as a mentor. Elliott lost his legs and three fingers in an IED blast in 2005 while serving as a US Marine in Iraq. His experience is similar to that of many other wounded vets.
“I used to snow board. After my injury, I had to start from the beginning. It was very frustrating,” Elliott said. Then he tried a mono ski, which is designed to maximize mobility, balance, agility and speed for someone with impaired or missing legs. He picked up the sport quickly and placed sixth in alpine skiing in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea. “It’s not about the disability,” he emphasizes. “It’s about what you need to adapt the sport. When you have that, you can do anything.”
Members of Korean War Veterans of Delaware donated $17,000 to purchase the all-terrain power wheelchair that gives vets with limited mobility access to hiking trails, beaches, hunting, fishing and other sporting activities.