Leaning deeply over the side of his chair, twisting his torso like a tightly coiled spring, Aaron Murray carefully balances the Olympic javelin above his shoulder and aims, preparing to make the transition. Corkscrewing himself, he lets fly, falling to the opposite side for recovery and throwing the 800-gram spear using purely his upper body strength.
Murray is one of five athletes with disabilities from Paraquad’s Health and Wellness Center, who came to the 2015 Duke McDonald/Paralyzed Veterans of America Local Veterans Wheelchair Games hosted by the Jefferson Barracks Division of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Several years ago, the VA opened up the games to any competitor who uses a wheelchair.
“I liked all the variety and activities. I learned a lot about the modifications for all the activities that were really cool — the modifications for all the throws for the track and field events and how they set up the slalom course. It just opened my eyes to see what was also available. To see all the possibilities was really cool,” said Murray an athlete and assistant in the Health and Wellness Center.
Murray works alongside a small crew of occupational therapists and one physical therapist to help people with a wide variety of disabilities exercise and meet personal goals to improve their everyday lives and increase community participation and engagement.
This year, the Health and Wellness Center had a solid turnout at the games and brought several of our participants to compete in adapted events like bowling, billiards, weight lifting, Boccia, wheelchair slalom, a wheelchair obstacle course, table tennis, a poker run and more. Nearly every participant placed in an event.
If you aren’t familiar with Boccia, it’s a Paralympic sport that is an adapted version of bocce. The Jefferson Barracks Division of Veterans Affairs will partner with Team USA Boccia to bring an event to St. Louis in October. The Health and Wellness Center hopes to bring a contingency of amateur athletes to represent the city at the event.
In addition to competitors, Paraquad also brought a showing of staff and occupational therapy students to help support athletes and events at the games.
“The staff really made the event. The staff were there the whole time to help with the modifications. Everybody was actually really cool. Learning about all the different disabilities and people and functions — like amputees. I had never seen someone using a head array for an obstacle course. All the participants were hilarious. Everyone had jokes and (was) trash-talking and (providing) encouragement,” said Murray.
We’re passionate about community at Paraquad, and that means creating an atmosphere in the gym where everyone feels welcomed. It also means connecting people to events like the wheelchair games, the annual water skiing and snow skiing clinics and various sporting events that are hosted in the greater St. Louis area. There’s nothing better than being a part of someone’s journey of self-discovery.
“It was good to see the camaraderie — just the community,” said Caitlin Coughlin, Occupational Therapy assistant student and event volunteer. “What’s good for the body is good for the soul. If you go through something crazy, you might isolate yourself. (The event was) so friendly, and it was just all inclusive and was a great way to meet friends. I think there’s a huge community out there. You just have to take a step forward and find it. It’s out there if you want it.”
Pamela Daughterty is the Adapted Exercise Specialist at Paraquad. She can be reached at email@example.com.