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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Sponsor's Dinner, 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Spokane, WA
July 12, 2009

Good evening, everyone—I’m honored to be here to help celebrate the 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games and to say thanks to some very special people and organizations.  Let me begin with:

Dr. Susan Pendergrass—Susan, thank you for that kind introduction, but more importantly, thank you and Sharon Helman for organizing these wheelchair games.  I know that you both have full-time jobs as directors of Veterans Integrated Service network (VISN) 20 and the Spokane VA Medical Center, so organizing these games took enormous effort and leadership on your parts.  For these games to come off smoothly, there are a tremendous number of details which must mesh perfectly.  Many, many thanks to both of you and your staffs.

Shelly Monahan of KHQ, Channel 6 television, the local NBC affiliate—thank you for serving as our Mistress of Ceremonies this evening.  Dinners like this do not come together naturally—you have shepherded us superbly.  Thanks.

From our VA corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C.—our Diane Hartmann and her National Events staff—specifically, Tom Brown, director and co-founder of these Wheelchair Games—who, with a host of volunteers, have transformed Spokane, in just a matter of days, into a world class sports venue, capable of challenging the very best wheelchair athletes in the country for an entire week.  Diane and her special events team spent the past year promoting and coordinating not only these games but also five other National Veterans Events:  The Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado, the Golden Age Games in Alabama, the Creative Arts Festival in Loma Linda, California, and—for the first time last year—a National Veterans’ Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego and, for disabled golfers, a National Veterans Tee Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa.  A lot of heavy lifting goes on in this part of the VA, and Veterans are the beneficiaries.

At this point, I’d like to also acknowledge the very special contributions of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)—our long-time partner in these Wheelchair Games.    Randy Pleva, Dave Zurfluh, Doug Beckley, from PVA’s Sports Program, and their many corporate sponsors and devoted volunteers—together, they make all this possible.  Randy, Dave, Doug—many thanks for what PVA brings to these games.

Along with PVA, let me acknowledge the dedication and perseverance of our Veteran athletes—without them there would be no Wheelchair Games.  Special welcome to the team from the United Kingdom, which is here for its 22nd games.  I salute the courage and resilience of all these athletes.

Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank the citizens of the good city of Spokane—especially Mayor Mary Verner—for their support and enthusiasm in hosting these wheelchair games.  You have been gracious in welcoming us; your hospitality and generosity have been simply magnificent.  Many thanks for providing us this venue to thank, encourage, and celebrate our Veteran athletes.

These 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, you see, are all about heart—the generous hearts of sponsors and supporters, who underwrite these games, and of course, the valiant hearts of Veterans, who come to compete and demand the best from their competitors—their’s are the biggest hearts of all!

I am reminded that Bob Hope once said, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you’ve got the worst kind of heart trouble.”   

Well, tonight we’re surrounded by a lot of healthy hearts, and you sponsors have been wonderful.  Given the tough economic times, you could have rendered your regrets and quietly backed off.  You did not—your support this year has been nothing short of magnificent.

These wheelchair games are about celebrating the triumph of the human spirit over physical adversity.  Now, I know you’ve all heard these words before, and because they’re so often repeated, they probably lose some of their significance, and may even sound trite.  It’s what you would expect the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to say.  Well, let me say that if you’ve lived your lives where these Veterans live—having grown up with arms and legs and eyes and fully functioning brains and neurological systems and then having to adjust both physically and mentally to the challenge of their new normal—you would not hear the words “triumph of the human spirit over physical adversity” in quite the same way.  They would mean a lot more, and you would be most appreciative of anyone, who gave you the opportunity to triumph over your adversities, if only for the moment.   

For this inspiring week, and that’s what it will be, an inspiring week, as sponsors of these Wheelchair Games you will provide disabled Veterans that opportunity to prove that life isn’t over—it’s just lived differently.  You will be fulfilled by what your generosity makes possible.  Whether your contribution is financial, in-kind, or you have volunteered your time and energy, you will see how these games have changed lives and advanced the rehabilitation of these Veterans.  And your lives will be affected, as well.

So, to our corporate and non-profit sponsors, we thank you for opening your purses to support these games.  There is enormous value in them for our paralyzed Veterans, and we are pleased that you have decided to help us make a difference for them.  I cannot thank you enough for your help in allowing more than 500 Veterans, proud and unbowed by their disabilities, to compete in what has become the largest, annual wheelchair event in the world.

For those sponsors, who have not attended the games before, you will meet Veterans from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Gulf War, and ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  From the oldest members of our greatest generations to the youngest warriors of our latest generation, they are here to represent those who could not be here this week, or ever.

Because of their service in uniform, we are able to enjoy the blessings of freedom and liberty.  And because of their determination, they are helping us all to redefine disability.  The men and women who are competing this week do not suffer from a lack of determination, stamina, and will to overcome physical limitations.  There are no disabilities here.  In their lives, head and heart count even more than muscle and bone.  They are here to compete, to experience the thrill of victory, and to enjoy the satisfaction of taking on some formidable competition.  For them, it’s about taking part in life—it’s about living fully.

On behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs and America’s 23-million Veterans, thank you for giving these very special men and women this rare opportunity to rise to the challenge and to grow in mind, body, and spirit.

God bless each of you.  God bless our men and women in uniform.  God bless our Veterans, and God bless our wonderful country.

Thank you.