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Veteran Athletes Give Super Effort in Super G

After six days of intense and sometimes grueling competition – the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games came to a close Thursday night in Tampa.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
A veteran athlete approaches the last obstacle in the "Super G" event at the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games at the Tampa Convention Center.

And like the decathlon in the Summer Olympics, the closing day feature what is considered the “to event” for wheelchair athletes at the games.

It’s the “Super G” – a slalom-like course of complex wooden ramps. Some tilt while others are covered with uneven blocks of wood or strips of carpet that can easily tip a wheelchair.

There are gates that must be maneuvered backwards, others that require a 360 degree spin and still others where the athlete must maintain a “wheelie” through a series of gates.

The athletes must be invited to compete. Only the top performers make the cut for the Super G according to Davis Celestine, president of the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

“To be in the Super G is like a privilege,” said Davis, who won medals in weightlifting, hand-cycling and bowling but was a spectator for this event.

Representing Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital, Stephen Bush made it through the Super G course in 13 minutes.

“(It’s) everyday obstacles that you encounter and instead of going around them you go over them,” Bush said. He had the most trouble with the teeter box positioned at the first.

What appeared to be the most dangerous obstacle was the last challenge where athletes had to guide their chairs over two pieces of  lumber – like parallel bars – that were three feet off the ground.

The athlete then  had to make it up 5 inch lip before hitting a down ramp and the finish line.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
The athlete must cross the parallel beams doing a "wheelie" to keep balanced and then navigate up a 5-inch lip before hitting the final down ramp and finish line in the Super G.

“The only thing that comes to mind is that a Navy SEAL would be in tears over this. This course is designed to test every possible strength and weakness that you can have in a wheelchair,” said Air Force veteran William Jackson who was recording the competition to show to fellow athletes at the Erie VA in Pennsylvania.

“They try to make the last of the obstacles  the most intense,” said Jackson who won a medal in the motorized wheelchair slalom. “You just used your arms to climb up a seven inch curb at the beginning of a course or to pop a wheelie and maintain a wheelie over 7 to 13 cones.”

He said he would gladly lay his medals at the feet of the Super G athletes because it’s such an intense competition.

It does get intense. Several volunteers and officials closely guard each athlete as they traverse the course because there are spills. Wheelchairs tip. Athletes fall out.

But to the delight of the crowd,  the veterans get back into their chairs and continue through the course.

Unlike the other events, medals are not awarded to the top three finishers. Instead, a trophy is presented to the wheelchair athlete with the best time and fewest penalty points.

Army veteran Bryan Price of Leeton, Missouri won the Super G at the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

The other 11 Super G competitors were: Cori Morgan, Enrique Lopez, Jeff Deleon, Johnnie Alexander, Laura Schwanger, Patrick Burns, Raymond Herandez, Rory Cooper, Samuel Hudson, Stephen Bush and Terry Rock.


Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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