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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

History of the Games

National Veterans Wheelchair Games

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are an outgrowth of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ historic involvement in wheelchair sports. Wheelchair sports had their beginning in the aftermath of World War II, when young disabled Veterans began playing wheelchair basketball in VA hospitals throughout the United States. Interest in wheelchair basketball soon spread to other sports such as track and field, bowling, swimming, and archery, spawning the formation of several associations devoted to new and innovative wheelchair sports.

While the participation of paralyzed and other disabled Veterans continued to flourish during the intervening years, it was not until 1980, when VA established a Recreation Therapy Service, that VA’s efforts brought about an enhanced awareness of the rehabilitative value of wheelchair athletics. Since then, VA therapists have used wheelchair sports as a therapeutic tool for treating Veterans with disabilities.

The first National Veterans Wheelchair Games were held in 1981, the “International Year of Disabled Persons,” at the VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. That year, 74 veterans from 14 states competed in sports ranging from table tennis and billiards, to swimming and weightlifting. Those first Games established an enduring trait that has characterized the event ever since — a strong sense of common identity and camaraderie among the participants. The hundreds of Veterans who choose to compete in the Games each year demonstrate their continuing popularity.

By 1985, the growing size, complexity, and resources needed for the Games presented a daunting challenge to VA medical centers hosting the program. Recognizing that most of the athletes were paralyzed Veterans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) offered to become a co-sponsor. To help obtain resources needed to host this national event, PVA recruited corporations to join in support of the Games. Since 1985, PVA's corporate sponsor program has helped the Games grow, both in number of competitors as well as variety of sports offered.

In 1987, 12 British military Veterans were invited to participate in the Games and a team from Great Britain has come every year since. After that first year, the British athletes formed a new disabled sports group — The British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports Association. This group extended the philosophy behind the National Veterans Wheelchair Games to the rest of the world, hosting International Veterans Wheelchair Games in Great Britain in 1994, 1996, and 1999.

Event Locations, 1981 - 2014
Year Location
Number of Athletes
1981 Richmond, Virginia
74
1982 Milwaukee, Wisconsin
137
1983 Long Beach, California
178
1984 Brockton, Massachusetts
272
1985 College Park, Maryland
280
1986 Dallas, Texas
360
1987 Ann Arbor, Michigan
389
1988 San Antonio, Texas
460
1989 Long Beach, California
397
1990 New Orleans, Louisiana
550
1991 Miami, Florida
487
1992 Dayton, Ohio
492
1993 San Antonio, Texas
454
1994 Kansas City, Missouri
473
1995 Atlanta, Georgia
519
1996 Seattle, Washington
487
1997 San Diego, California
577
1998 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
539
1999 San Juan, Puerto Rico
555
2000 San Antonio, Texas
577
2001 New York, New York
523
2002 Cleveland, Ohio
484
2003 Long Beach, California
540
2004 St. Louis, Missouri
518
2005 Minneapolis, Minnesota
498
2006 Anchorage, Alaska
527
2007 Milwaukee, Wisconsin
513
2008 Omaha, Nebraska
497
2009 Spokane, Washington
511
2010 Denver, Colorado
583
2011 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
567
2012 Richmond, Virginia
540
2013 Tampa, Florida
567
2014 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
TBD

Find a Sports Club

National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Contact

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Paralyzed Veterans of America

  • PVA Sports Consultant:
    Tom Brown
    (817) 673-2812
  • Sports & Recreation Program:
    Mary Hobbs
    (800) 424-8200, ext.752

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