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American Homefront

Wheelchair Veteran Athletes Take on Tampa

This week, the Tampa Bay region is hosting more than 600 elite athletes, their coaches and families.

Opening ceremonies for the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games were held this weekend at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
The final veteran athlete crossing Platt Street Bridge during Sunday's hand-cycling race along Bayshore Boulevard.

Outside, under an inflatable arch, the first event, a hand-cycling race for 5K and 10K, started and finished.

The race included a wide range of athletes many speedsters in sleek, low-riding track chairs and others with more severe physical disabilities cycled in upright chairs.

Their hardest challenge was the rise to get over the Platt Street Bridge. That’s where volunteer Kendra Richgels was explaining to her  two  daughters that hand-cycling isn’t as easy as it looks

“Try to do a push up,” Richgels teased her daughter who admitted she couldn’t. “See you’ve got to have a lot of upper body strength.”

Richgel said she is among hundreds from Citibank employees  volunteering to help with the Games.

“A member of our team, his son is in Afghanistan right now so my whole team has come out for Global Community Day and we support the veterans in general,” Richgels said.

Also stationed on the Platt Street Bridge for the race was Ron Evia, one of several Hillsborough County Fire Fighters volunteering for the Games.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
On the downhill side, the final hand-cyclist in the race raises her arms in victory having made it over the rise on the Platt Street Bridge.

“We definitely support our veterans and I’m a veteran myself,” Evia said. “I feel a need – it’s actually my duty - to help out serve these guys as they served us.”

The National  Veterans Wheelchair Games run through Thursday – all events are free and open to the public.

Monday morning events include air guns at the Marriott in downtown Tampa, track at Tampa’s Jefferson High School and a water skiing exhibition at Pinellas County’s Lake Seminole Park.

The Games are co-hosted by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Gulf Coast Chapter, and James A. Haley VA Hospital and Clinics. Here's a full schedule of events.