September 13 -18, 2015
San Diego, CA
The Summer Sports Clinic offers adventure sports and recreational activities such as sailing, surfing, track and field events, kayaking and cycling (hand and tandem), to those who were recently injured. Complimenting the therapy provided in daily rehabilitation programs, the Clinic shares a glimpse of the many exciting recreational opportunities awaiting those Veterans who accept the challenge. With the variety of water and summer sports available at the Clinic, this week-long journey hosts Veterans from all over the country who have a variety of injuries, ranging from traumatic brain injury and polytrauma, to spinal cord injury or loss of limb. Its fundamental purpose is to provide early intervention for Veterans battling back from injury, not only strengthening their bodies but overcoming and improving their overall being and self-worth.
Important NVSSC Information
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
VA is committed to improving the quality of life for Veterans with disabilities. Participants will develop sports skills and take part in a variety of adaptive sports workshops. Clinic participation demonstrates that having a physical or visual disability is not an obstacle to an active rewarding life.
VA San Diego Healthcare System
Host Hotel – Manchester Grand Hyatt
Surfing – La Jolla Shores
Sailing – San Diego Harbor
Cycling – Coronado Island
Kayaking – Mission Bay Yacht Club
Track & Field – U.S. Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista
Jeremy Henderson is accustomed to helping others. As a peer specialist at the Roseburg VA Medical Center in Oregon, Jeremy provides support to Veterans undergoing mental health treatment. A former Army combat engineer with two deployments to Iraq, he is a Veteran serving Veterans. This week, he was one of more than 100 participants at the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.
Shortly after getting out of the service he began working at the Roseburg VA. He said he enjoys working with other combat OEF/OIF Veterans and shares many of their experiences.
“I would like to continue supporting Veterans,” he said.
With encouragement from his VA colleagues, Jeremy participated in his first Summer Sports Clinic in 2013. His wife and caregiver, Candice Henderson, joined him at the clinic this year. She said she’s helping him get outside his comfort zone. “I’m the more talkative one of the two of us and I think I help Jeremy relax while he’s here,” she said. “It’s also a huge advantage for me to be able to see him around other Veterans—his peers.”
Jeremy said he’s socializing with other team members at the clinic and putting his peer specialist skills to work by building connections with fellow Veterans. He even reconnected with four Veterans that he met last year.
His experience at the clinic has also inspired him to get more involved in his hometown. An avid BMX rider growing up, Jeremy hadn’t been on a bike since childhood, until he cycled at the Summer Sports Clinic. Now, he incorporates cycling, as well as swimming and rock climbing, into his regular fitness routine.
His participation in the clinic has also motivated him to connect with a recreational therapist out of Eugene, Oregon to bring outpatient recreational therapy activities to Roseburg.
Laura Ortiz gets her strength and purpose from three words: faith, humility and service. It’s these words, and a tireless drive, that helped her get through one of the most traumatic chapters of her life.
Six years ago, Laura lost her right leg in an accident. While she wasn’t exactly sure how her disability would affect her, her purpose in life and core values never faltered.
“I felt a total jolt of energy,” she said. “At the moment when I saw my leg and I knew it wasn’t going to be a part of me anymore, I just surrendered to the idea that I would still be able to live a fulfilling life with the help of advances in technology and prosthetics.”
The fitness-conscious Veteran purchased a stability ball and worked hard on her own rehabilitation. She researched as much as she could about her “new reality” and tried her best to reach out to amputees who shared her athletic aspirations. Eventually, Laura was able to find her place in the community despite her disability.
In Miami, Laura is one of the first women Veterans to lead a program called Troops for Fitness. The boot camp style classes take historically underserved people with little to no fitness experience and put them on the path to a healthier lifestyle. “I love that I get to use my military experience to help others reach their fitness goals,” she said. “I have fun and I feel like part of the solution when it comes to obesity and diabetes in my community, so it isn’t really work for me.”
As successful as Laura’s rehabilitation was, she still found it hard to get passed a certain level of athletic performance. Specialized prosthetics can be expensive, and she hadn’t signed up for VA care yet. After speaking with other Veterans and VA recreational therapists in Miami, Laura enrolled in VA health care.
Five years after losing her leg, she walked into the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center and began working with VA prosthetic specialists to create legs that not only improved her athletic performance, but also improved her daily life.
“It was a huge weight that was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “Now I have three legs to choose from. It really gave me confidence to have trained VA employees help me do more of the things I wanted to do. My sights can be set much higher.”
A few months ago, her recreational therapists Raphael Hernandez and William Rios reached out to Laura and suggested applying to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. Although she was already well versed in adaptive sports, they knew Laura would still benefit from the various activities offered at the clinic.
Now on her third day in Southern California, the Army National Guard Veteran is rowing out on Otay Lake at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. She’s part of an all women Veterans team and making quick friends with the other members of Team Mercury.
“I feel so lucky and blessed to be here,” she said after returning to shore. “Sometimes we just need a little push. I think once you try adaptive sports it becomes a motivator to challenging yourself. I’ve done things as an amputee that I would never have dreamed of doing before – not even with two legs. These kinds of clinics are great and we all need to keep supporting them.”
Rodney Blanton was fresh home from a deployment to Afghanistan with the Air National Guard in 2011, when his life was changed by a reckless truck driver. The domino effect of twisted vehicles ended with Rodney and his motorcycle strewn across five lanes of Texas highway.
He said he died twice on the operating table, but somehow was able to pull through. After 12 days in a coma, Rodney woke up to the realization that his left leg had been amputated. However, it wasn’t the fact that something was missing that drove him during the seven months it took to learn to walk again – it was the fact that he was still alive.
“I wasn’t about to give up,” the Houston native said, “so I kept walking to try to get back in shape. After awhile I even started running -- even though my prosthetic leg wasn’t made for it. It would always take me a long time, but I had to keep trying.”
Despite his persistence, there was something missing in Rodney’s life. The former tech sergeant had always been
involved in sports, especially baseball and basketball, and he felt like his disability was holding him back. That was until he walked into the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston and met recreational therapist Jessica Dawson.
“Rodney had already come a long way when he came to VA for the first time,” Jessica said, “but he wasn’t aware of all the opportunities we provide through adaptive sports. He was surprised to find out how much he could do with recreational therapy through VA.”
She introduced him to the Paralympic Sports Club in Houston, and Rodney never looked back. Every week he was trying a new sporting activity, and before Jessica knew it, Rodney became one of the program’s biggest advocates and recruiter of Veteran participants.
Now, as Rodney attends his first National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, Jessica can’t help but be proud of his accomplishments. She yells out encouragement from La Jolla Beach as Rodney tries surfing for the first time. He waves and beams back a smile. Rodney has found a new sport to be excited about.
“She pushed me to try new things, and now I’m here,” Rodney said in between sets of waves Monday.
Veterans from across the United States arrived in San Diego and Naval Base Coronado to participate in VA’s National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic (NVSSC). The week-long event, now in its seventh year, challenges and empowers Veterans with disabilities through activities like surfing, cycling and kayaking with the help of community volunteers and VA’s Adaptive Sports program.
“To the coaches and recreational therapists -- your service to Veterans is invaluable,” Kevin T. Hanretta, VA Assistant Secretary for Operations, Security and Preparedness said during the NVSSC opening ceremony at the Coronado Theater. “You help Veterans to become stronger and to regain independence … and I want to thank the Veteran athletes for coming here to compete, and show us all what courage, drive, and determination are all about.” Hosted by VA San Diego Healthcare System, the clinic is designed to be the first step in getting Veterans with disabilities to be physically active during their rehabilitation. However, the clinic
provides so much more than a chance to be athletic in the beautiful scenery of Southern California. For many Veterans it’s a great way to find the camaraderie they miss from their time in the military and to heal some of their invisible wounds by regaining confidence and self-worth.
This year 130 Veterans, 94 who are first-time participants, will try their hand at sports they might have considered impossible before the event. For Theotis D. Smith, a U.S. Marine Corps and Army Veteran, the chance to represent the Veterans and employees of the Edward Hines VA Medical Center at the clinic is the culmination of his rehabilitation journey.
“I’m extremely happy to be given this chance,” Smith said. “Before working with VA Adaptive Sports, I was just at home looking at four walls and depressed. Now my life has become a joy. I want to try every program VA offers.”
When asked what event he was most excited about, the Chicago native said he couldn’t wait to go out sailing.
“I got to sail a few times in Chicago,” he said. “I have 10-inch rods running up and down my back, so when I got out on the water and looked at what God created for us – all of my pain goes away.”
Participation is open to U.S. military service Veterans with orthopedic amputations, traumatic brain injuries, burn injuries, psychological trauma, neurological conditions, PTSD, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries and other eligible injuries incurred in the last six years.
The VA Summer Sports Clinic helps Veterans find community and rehabilitation through friendly competition.
Watch Videos from this years and previous years National Veterans Summer Sports Clinics.