From August 12 - 17th, Philadelphia will host the 34th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). The NVWG brings in over 500 athletes every year, making it the world’s largest wheelchair sporting event.
The competition is open to veterans of all experience levels who “use wheelchairs for sports competitions due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems.” Every year, about a quarter of the competitors have never before participated in wheelchair sports. Wheelchair sports pros also attend, using the event as a qualifier for the Paralympics.
The extensive list of events includes air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, hand cycling, motorized wheelchair rally, nine-ball, power soccer, quad rugby, slalom, softball, swimming, table tennis, track and field events, trapshooting, and weightlifting. The event is free for both participants and spectators.
Wheelchair sports began in the wake of World War II when disabled vets started playing basketball in VA hospitals. The sport quickly grew in popularity and additional wheelchair sports were soon formed. Then in 1981, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hosted the first National Veterans Wheelchair Games with a mere 74 participants. The number of participants doubled the following year, and by 1990 the games were attracting nearly 500 veterans every year.
According to the official VA site, the purpose of the NVWG is to “improve the quality of life for veterans with disabilities and foster better health through sports competition.”