Military vets ‘can do anything’ at Wheelchair Games

Wheelchair athletes descended on Chesterfield last Friday to show off their swimming strokes in 21-heats of competition held at the Collegiate School Aquatics Center. The facility was honored to host the swimming portion of the 32nd annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Richmond was the host city for the games from June 25 through the 30.

More than 500 of America’s best wheelchair athletes, all disabled U.S. military veterans, participated in numerous athletic events at several different locations throughout the Richmond area.

Veterans  competed in 17 different sports, including air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, field, hand cycling, nine-ball, a motorized wheelchair relay, power soccer,  rugby, swimming, softball, table tennis, track and field, trapshooting, wheelchair slalom and weightlifting.

At first glance, it was obvious that most of these athletes are dependent on wheelchairs for mobility because of combat related injuries.  Joann Dickson-Smith has a different story.

Joann didn’t lose the use of her legs on the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of Vietnam or even in the deserts of Iraq.  She has multiple sclerosis. Joann is a retired Lieutenant Commander in the Public Health Service under the Surgeon General of the United States.  Joann joined the Public Health Service in 1990 after getting her master’s degree in epidemiology. She worked at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as a health education specialist. She traveled to underprivileged parts of the country educating members of those communities about cancer detection and prevention.  

In 1994, Dickson-Smith had to medically retire from the Public Health Service because of her MS. She was on call 24 hours a day.

Joann didn’t find out about the Wheelchair Games until a few years ago.

“My first Wheelchair Games was three years ago in Spokane; last year was Pittsburgh, and now here in Richmond.”  Dickson-Smith recalls.

This year, she participated in the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter relay. She also bowled and competed in the 50-meter freestyle at the aquatic center.  Joann’s time in the 50-meter free was  a  respectable two-minutes and 54-seconds.

“I’m already looking forward to next year, I’m so excited,” Dickson-Smith said. “Events like these make you believe you can do anything.”

Joann runs a support group for others suffering from MS. Although her friends tell her she does too much, she also volunteers with Meals on Wheels.

To learn more about the Wheelchair Games go to www.wheelchairgames.va.gov/

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