On Aug 12-17, 2014, the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games  were hosted in Philadelphia, and I had the opportunity to attend some of the events. The Games, presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, are the largest annual multi-event sports and rehabilitation program in the world.

Wheelchair Games

Two participants in the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games chat after finishing a race. Knowing how much the athletes have given of themselves in defense of our country makes this competition all the more real – and inspiring.

The six-day event saw nearly 600 athletes from across the country (and a delegation from Great Britain) compete in 17 different events, including basketball, quad rugby, and track and field. Highmark and United Concordia Dental, part of Highmark Health, sponsor this event annually because of their long-standing commitment to the military community and support for the Games mission: to improve the quality of life for veterans with disabilities and foster better health through sports competition.

Veteran-Athletes Join Together – for Sports and for Each Other

During the opening ceremonies, the veterans entered the convention center as part of a state-by-state parade. Some were older, others were young; some were assisted by service dogs, others by their young children and some not at all.

All in all, it was a meaningful and inspiring moment.  Sharon Duke, Director of Government Affairs for United Concordia Dental, who was also in attendance, added:

“It’s inspiring to watch these amazing athletes compete in virtually any sport you can imagine. As a veteran myself, I’m incredibly proud that Highmark and United Concordia Dental have continued our tradition of, and commitment to, honoring those who have given so much to serve our country.”

Since these games are used in part as a rehabilitation program, they provide an opportunity for newly disabled veterans to gain sports skills and meet other wheelchair athletes. According to a Games publication, one quarter of the 600+ athletes each year are competing in an organized wheelchair sports competition for the first time.

The sportsmanship and camaraderie among the competitors was obvious and touching to me. Veterans easily switched from competitors to friends every time a race ended, and all of the volunteers and fans were full of encouragement for novice athletes and U.S. Paralympic team hopefuls alike. It was a sight to see.

If anyone happens to be reading from the Dallas area, I highly recommend you check out the event when it’s hosted in your city next year!

Wheelchair Games - Tennis

Athletes from all over the country participated in several different events, including tennis, basketball, quad rugby, and track and field. Veteran-athletes in the Games use wheelchairs for sports competition as a result of spinal cord injuries, amputations, certain neurological conditions, and other health issues that have impaired their mobility.

You also can read about the history of the Games on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ website.

Welcoming Veterans into the Workforce

Why do Highmark and United Concordia Dental sponsor the Games? Easy. Our companies’ goals are similar to those of the Games – we aim to improve the health and well-being of individuals in the communities we serve. This includes our country’s military veterans and our practices and programs reflect that commitment.

We believe that they bring leadership skills, commitment and discipline that translate to exceptional personal and career opportunities.

Be sure to check out our Veteran Voices series on this blog to learn more about our veteran-employees and how their time in the military prepared them for their careers with Highmark Health companies.