Northport VA Medical Center
Veterans Adapt to Sports During Recent Clinic
One sight people don’t expect to see at a medical facility is swords clanking and opponents aggressively jabbing at one another. But that’s what folks saw when Northport VAMC recently hosted the Veterans Integrated Service Network 3 Adaptive Sports Clinic.
Fencing was just one of many sporting activities hosted by Recreation Therapy Service and Disabled Veterans of America. It was designed to show veterans what is achievable, how to work around injuries, and remain active. A popular archery display drew lines of vets who took aim at balloon targets using traditional and compound bows.
“Use these three fingers and, when you release the arrow, just pop the fingers out,” said Donald Pecora, Suffolk Archers, one of several volunteers who coached the would-be archers. “Nice try, Alan. Now on this next one, keep your eye on the target.”
Other veterans peppered focus pads with punches during a boxing demo, while others scuba dived in the VA pool. Buses shuttled veterans back and forth to Scudder Park, where they kayaked, stand-up paddle boarded, and fly fished in Northport Harbor.
During lunch, several bicycles were presented to veterans by Angel Bikes and American Legion Post 1066, Massapequa. The three-wheeled “recumbent” bikes—some of which utilize hand peddles—allow the vets to sit or lie down as they ride. The hand-cycle costs $3,500, which the A.L. Post 1066 has donated 18 times under the umbrella of Angel Bikes.
“There is no administrative cost,” Greg Greene, A.L. post commander, said. “We buy the bike and give it to them. We just gave one to a female marine in Albany. They are so happy to receive them.”
Angel Bikes was founded by Cynthia Ventura, who lost her eldest son four years ago, and saw her younger son become paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. Both sons were Marines.
“I never believed I’d give a bike to my own son,” she said. “Doing this is a way for me to survive. It makes my heart feel good. That’s what I get out of it.”
The bikes are donated to wounded military members and endowed in loving memory of a fallen service member. Both service member names are inscribed on a plaque on the back of each bike. “It’s kind of like an angel is watching over you,” said Ventura.
Her son, Billy Ventura, who rode a recumbent bike along the path circling the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Garden, said the Angel Bike program is an important step in getting disabled veterans active again.
“It can take people who are in a dark place and brighten up and lift their spirits,” said Billy. “I ride with a lot of other military members and get camaraderie.”
But it took Billy a while to join the program. He didn’t like the idea of riding in a group because he didn’t want the attention.
“Look, I get it,” he said. “I’ve been there. I didn’t want to get out of bed the first few months. I felt more comfortable by myself. In a group, I thought all eyes were on me, but that isn’t the case at all. This program has improved my outlook, my attitude, everything.”
That is the goal of Northport’s Recreation Therapy Service—to improve the lives of service members by getting them back in the game of life.
“Our mission is to engage veterans to do more for themselves than they thought possible,” said Patrick Campbell, assistant chief of Recreation Therapy Service. “I was told that on one of the buses going back to Manhattan, a visually-impaired New York Harbor veteran became very emotional because he hadn’t ridden a bike in 16 years. I just heard so many positive things.”
Despite his visual impairment, this veteran rode a tandem bike with a volunteer, and it made his day. That is why this clinic is so important. It nourishes the veteran’s spirit.
“This is our sixth adaptive sports clinic, but we want veterans to know that recreation therapy offers cycling, kayaking, archery and more every week,” Campbell said.
Other activities at this year’s clinic included wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball, a laser firing range, goal ball, bowling, and a solo golf demo. More than 25 community and veteran service organizations supported the event.
For more information on sporting activities, please contact Recreation Therapy Service at 631-261-4400 ext. 7275.