Adapting for Adaptive Sports

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DAV and VA go online to provide disabled veterans virtual versions of annual adaptive sporting events

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached American shores, the Department of Veterans Affairs was forced to cancel the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colorado, scheduled to take place in March 2020. What the DAV and VA organizers didn’t know was that they were at the vanguard of a trend that wouldn’t show signs of receding for over a year.

In spring 2020 and the months that followed, as the country adapted to its new and unplanned reality, industries began to more widely embrace video conferencing in order to operate as normally as possible throughout the crisis.

In September 2020, the National Disabled Veterans TEE (Training, Exposure, Experience) Tournament—an annual adaptive golf clinic co-presented by DAV and the VA in Iowa City, Iowa, that serves as a rehabilitation program for veterans with visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), amputations, spinal cord injuries and other disabilities—transitioned to an online event dubbed TEE At Home. Participants were provided virtual golf lessons with Professional Golfers’ Association professionals and challenged to put their instruction to use at local courses across the country in an effort to engage and invigorate them to directly improve their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

“Nearly 300 registered veterans who applied for the original in-person golf clinic were invited to participate in TEE At Home, and we were happy with the turnout and positive feedback,” said Nick Beelner, director of the TEE Tournament. “Beyond the direct Q&A with the PGA pros, we created nine instructional videos that will remain on the TEE website for any veteran to view in the future in what is the beginning of what will become a comprehensive library of golf instruction.”

With the success of TEE At Home, DAV and the VA used the same blueprint to offer a virtual version of this year’s winter sports clinic, appropriately named the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic At Home, which took place March 29–April 2.

“Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough time last year between the cancellation and the scheduled event for us to put something together for our participants,” said Teresa Parks, director of the winter sports clinic, which promotes rehabilitation through adaptive winter sports for injured veterans and their families. “When we saw what Nick’s team was able to accomplish with some preparation time and the success they had with the golf clinic, we knew we’d be able to not only repeat it with our event this year but also hopefully expand on it.”

The Winter Sports Clinic At Home provided participants with numerous instructional videos ranging from proper ski and snowboarding equipment to recommendations for athletes with specific injuries. There were also sessions focused on mental health, self-defense, specific injuries (such as TBI), yoga, and other winter sports such as ice hockey and curling, as well as a daily series of testimonials featuring a veteran’s story of overcoming the obstacles of personal injury.

Marine Corps veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams delivered the keynote address at the 2021 National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic At Home virtual event.

The event’s opening day featured a keynote address from Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Marine Corps veteran who spoke about how, through programs like the TEE Tournament and the winter sports clinic, DAV and the VA are providing a service to veterans that would not be available otherwise and are giving them a life that they could have never experienced before the World War II era.

“When I view the accomplishments of the veterans taking part in this program, I’m enthralled, and I wonder where the grit and the drive comes from,” said Williams. “I believe it’s the same drive that they exhibited while serving America in the armed forces.”

“Woody is 100% correct, because adaptive sports play an incredibly important role in a veteran’s recovery,” said Past National Commander Dave Riley, a quadruple amputee who serves as chairman for both the TEE Tournament and the winter sports clinic. “The pandemic hasn’t been an easy time for a lot of disabled veterans, but with golf and winter sports, there’s a certain amount of self-competition and calmness that does wonders for your mental health. And I can’t wait for the day that DAV and the VA can get everyone back to these events in person.”

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