Fayetteville VA Medical Center
Disabled Veteran Wins Sports Medal, Has Message For Others
Last month, local Marine Veteran Ace Cruz whose legs were paralyzed in an auto accident April 1992, participated in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic held March 24-30 in Snowmass Village, Colo.
For Cruz, this was another life-changing experience that not only showed him the real purpose of the winter sports games, but also inspired him to send a message to other disabled Veterans.
“I learned the main reason to go to these sports clinics is to encourage disabled vets to participate in recreation therapy and realize that life does not end in their chair,” said Cruz.
Cruz participated in the snow skiing, archery, shooting sports, sled hockey and scuba diving events.
“This was my first time competing,” said Cruz. “Even though it’s not a real competition against others, it tests your endurance and you compete with yourself. During the games, it becomes natural to want to compete with others.”
Cruz tested his endurance on the Q-Course by learning how to snow ski and maneuver through a winding obstacle course. Since timing was critical at the finish line, he carefully listened for guidance from his instructor. It took him seven seconds to get through the Q-course. Next, Cruz and one other Veteran headed to the mountain top for a ski run.
“On top of the mountain, I gave the Veteran a 15-second lead to see if I could still beat his time,” Cruz said. “You have to really concentrate and stay focused on your balance, speed and where you’re going.”
His next challenge was learning how to control his breathing to prevent panic while under water. Cruz learned how to breathe through his mouth and communicate using sign language before taking his first scuba dive.
“I was 10 feet under water and tasked with putting together a puzzle of nuts and bolts, playing frisbee and throwing a rocket shaped object through a hoop; in two hours, I only surfaced twice,” he added. “Learning how to make breathing under water seem like second nature was a real sense of accomplishment.”
Another sport took Cruz out of the water and put him on ice.
“During sled hockey, I played forward defense and our team got three goals, Cruz said. “When the tough get going, you forget you’re paralyzed; your full attention is getting the goal.”
After talking about each event, Cruz explained how he got started in the winter sports clinic.
Cruz said he was encouraged by his friend (another disabled Veteran) to register. He also learned that first-time participants are qualified to have their travel and lodging expenses paid for.
“This was something that I needed to do for myself,” Cruz explained. “Having expenses covered made it easier to try out; I just needed cash for personal expenses.”
Cruz recalled starting the trip with five other Veterans while waiting to board the plane at the international airport in Richmond, Va.
To encourage the other Veterans participating, he remembered saying, “This is where the competition starts.” When they asked him, what was he talking about, he smiled and replied, “If you’re here, you’re already a winner.”
Cruz thanks his friend for encouraging him to take the first step and be a part of the winter sports clinic. His next goal is to participate in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Richmond June 25-30.
He said as a Marine staff sergeant, he learned the importance of staying physically and mentally strong for the mission. Now that his “mission is redefined,” he has a message for other disabled Veterans.
“You never know what your ability is until you try - you must rediscover yourself and be determined and committed to you - life is not in this chair.”
The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Disabled American Veterans, and is held every March in Snowmass; Colo. Registration for volunteers begins in June and participants can sign up starting in August.
The upcoming wheelchair games for disabled Veterans are also co-sponsored by VA and DVA with Richmond VA Medical Center serving as the local host. For more information, visit the National Veterans Wheelchair games at the http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/wcg/index.asp web site.