Local News

Valor Games provide competition, escape for wounded vets

Posted May 23

— Veterans and military members with disabilities from across the Southeast are in the Triangle this week to compete in the fifth-annual Valor Games.

More than 120 athletes are taking part in 11 adaptive sports, from archery to sitting volleyball to bocce. The games were held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Tuesday and will be at Duke University on Wednesday.

Participants called the event a way to escape. Not only do the sports provide physical exercise, they said, but the spirit of competition and inclusion is invaluable to their emotional and mental well-being.

"When you're sitting at home (and) you have PTSD, your mind wanders, but for me, my savior was a friend of mine who introduced me to adaptive sports," said Derrick, an Army veteran from Georgia with nerve damage to his leg and metal rods in his neck and back. "It gives me that boost, a purpose in life."

Ashley Thomas founded Bridge II Sports, which started the Valor Games.

"It creates that place where we are all welcome, regardless of how we function," she said.

Thomas isn't a veteran, but she said she could relate to them and their struggles.

"I was born with spina bifida, and I understand the journey of not being able. The journey of disability can be very isolating," she said. "A military person who is defending our country, they compete on an elite level, and it's not nice when you can't be a part, and it creates a lot of unintentional consequences."

Gordon, an Army veteran with nerve damage in his back, said the event provides a sense of community with other vets.

"You deal with chronic pain to any level, you find out medicine is only going to do so much. The biggest help or relief, if you're going to get any at all, is distraction," Gordon said. "You actually get to smile, and that's not always an easy thing to do."

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