Contest Empowers Vets
By Jenna Duncan
It’s the setup for a classic game of pick-up basketball. One team is wearing green shirts, with a Flower Mound police SWAT logo on the left breast.
The other team has uncoordinated outfits, but cover their torsos with faded black mesh tank tops called pinnies.
After about 20 minutes of practice shooting hoops and joking, the game started Wednesday in the Texas Woman’s University Fitness and Recreation Center.
The game was pre-organized, and the pinnies were the home team, a group of veterans with physical disabilities and their trainers from Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas. They faced all able-bodied, athletic men from the SWAT team — and every person on the court was in a wheelchair designed for basketball.
Coordinated by Project INVEST (Injured Veterans Entering Sports Training) at TWU, the game was the third annual Battle of the Backboards, where injured veterans face off with first responders in a game of wheelchair basketball.
The project works with various veteran organizations and military bases to help reintegrate military members with disabilities into society through adaptive sports, said Ronald Davis, a TWU professor who heads the program.
“We want everyone to think about sports being sports, whether you’re in a wheelchair or not,” Davis said. “For [the veterans] it’s about the normality and being accepted in a normal environment, and getting them out and engaged.”
Some of the players are in a nine-week training course for veterans and civilians with disabilities at the Adaptive Training Foundation, and others were alumni of the program.
The free program, led by David Vobora, works with 10 veterans every nine weeks once they’re done with physical therapy to help “restore, recalibrate and redeploy” them as athletes, he said.
“I was an NFL player, and I suck at wheelchair basketball. It’s amazing because this group can do things I can’t do and that challenges me,” Vobora said. “I feel like it’s a huge paradigm shift when you stop saying words like heal and recover and start using words like compete. It’s utilizing good pain to push out bad pain and empowering them through competition.”
While many of the veterans were familiar with using the adaptive wheelchairs, it was a learning curve for the SWAT team, said Lt. Henry Lucio. They worked with the chairs for about 20 minutes before the game, and walked away physically drained, he said.
“It was totally different,” Lucio said of playing basketball in a wheelchair. “My arms are still tight. I’m sure everybody else’s arms feel like rubber bands.”
Lucio said the team had training in the morning so participating seemed like a good team building exercise and a way to get involved with veterans in the community.
“There are some great athletes over there,” Lucio said after the veterans beat his team 24-16. “They’re not letting their disability slow them down one bit.”
Tags Players Give Back