Team Fresno fueling active lifestyle for veterans

Team Fresno medalists were honored with awards and medals July 18 at a ceremony held at the VA Medical Center. (Photo by Diana Giraldo)

For valley veterans like Fernie Valez, competing in Team Fresno was more that just a search toward a healthy lifestyle, it was a chance to heal.

Team Fresno gives local veterans the opportunity to train and participate in one of three physical competitions throughout the year, which include National Veterans Golden Age Games, National Veterans Wheelchair Games and the Valor Games Far West.

Valez, a Marine Corps veteran, began competing after he retired from his civilian job. He had developed PTSD and was feeling depressed, but his life began to brighten after he followed his friend’s advice to go to the VA Central California Health Care System and participate in the yearly competitions.

“I do these competitions for the benefit of me physically but the medals are for my fallen comrades that did not get to make it back,” Valez said.

He returned home victorious, with medals for a triathlon competition, a three-mile bike ride and arrow shooting.

“The endorphins really work,” Valez said through a chuckle. “You work hard and you get that buzz and it feels good.”

The VA Medical Center honored the medalists and participants for their achievement July 18 with an award ceremony and reception.

Terry Rommereim, lead chaplain, began the ceremony by thanking the veterans, who brought home over 60 medals, for pushing themselves beyond their own limits to reach their goals and also improve their quality of life.

“Through these athletes we have been given tremendous inspiration,” Rommereim said. “We are grateful not only for their service to our country but also for their display of determination and spirit of perseverance and courage despite numerous odds.”

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is designed to empower veterans with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, amputations and other neurological injuries to live more active and healthy lives through wheelchair sports and recreation. This year’s games were held June 27 to July 2, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The National Veterans Golden Age Games, which were held July 10 to 14 in Detroit is open to veterans 55 and older. This competition is the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the U.S. and the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors’ competition program designed to improve the quality of life for all older veterans, including those with a wide range of disabilities.

The Valor Games Far West were held in Coast Guard Island, Alameda June 3-6. In partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Northern California Regional Paralympic Sport Program, Far West Wheelchair Athletic Association, the Valor Games introduces adapted sports to all veterans attending.

Altogether the veterans can choose from 17 events to compete in and with the help of Break the Barriers, they can learn and master a variety of adaptive sports, said Michaelle Trigueiro, a recreation therapist at the VA Medical Center.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for them,” Trigueiro. “It’s just amazing how far they do come and it’s a whole new life and it’s just another world for them.”

Kyle Carlson, the programs director at Break the Barriers who has coached for 16 years, said the program is not only important for the veterans to stay active but it’s life changing for them.

“We are just giving them the opportunity to try and do something that most people say they can’t because they may have this disability,” Carlson said. “And that’s not what we do at Break the Barriers — it’s about what you can do, not what you can’t and that’s a huge recipe for success.”

Now that this year’s games are over, Dorthy Garrison and her fellow competing veterans look toward the next competitions.

“I’m 85 years old, so you can see what being active has done for me,” she said with a smile. “But I’m still healthy and I’m still going. Some people just sit at home and I say there is no need to sit at home just complaining — get out and do something.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]