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VA Summer Sports Clinic Draws Inspiring Athletes to San Diego Bay

Contact: Barbara Moreno (619) 686-6216 on .

vasportscliniclind"Let's get riding!"

With that call to action, 20 men and women, all disabled veterans, joined dozens of volunteers in kicking off the first day of the National Veterans Administration Summer Sports Clinic on Monday, September 19.

It was an occasion of cheers and smiles that brightened a foggy morning along the Port of San Diego's Tidelands Park in Coronado.


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The VA Summer Sports Clinic, in its fourth year, has attracted nearly 100 recently injured veterans to San Diego this week for the special rehabilitation-related sporting event. It is sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki hosted the opening ceremony at Point Loma Naval Base on Sunday, September 18.

The participants were veterans whose disabilities include amputation, spinal injuries, brain trauma and blindness.

"What you think you can't do you find you can do here," said Army veteran Babette Peyton of Chicago.

vasportsclinic1-babettePeyton grinned from ear-to-ear as she prepared to leave her wheelchair for a recumbent cycle – one with three wheels and hand pedals. She was among the 20 riders testing their wheels at the event's cycling clinic.

They first took a short ride from Tidelands Park to the Coronado Ferry Landing. That was followed by a 7- to 12-mile trek to Coronado's Silver Strand and back.

"I love sports," Peyton exclaimed. "Adaptive sports is so good for the soul, for the spirit, for the mind. It expands the possibilities."

Peyton was a trauma medivac for the Army for three years before her injury. Now, her goal is to be a paralympian.

"Just being out here, the camaraderie, and the ability to get involved in all kinds of sports. While you're thinking, 'I can't,' people here show you, 'You can.'"

David Tostenrude, cycling sports coordinator for the event, said that can-do attitude, and the smiles along the route, are what the VA Summer Sports Clinic is all about.

"When people are challenged with a disability, it impacts them so differently," he said. "But they're going to run into something this week that's going to open a door for them. And once you do that, anything becomes possible."

The hope is that veterans will continue the sporting activities when they get home. The clinic also serves as a training ground for VA employees to set up similar rehab programs in their hometowns.

"The VA clinics are recognizing this event as a strong resource and referring more people to attend," Tostenrude said.

The cycling clinic is one of five events that make up the clinic. Other events include adaptive kayaking, sailing, track and field, and surfing.

The San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina hosts the sailing event. Challenged America has a fleet of Martin 16 sailboats that are specially designed and equipped for disabled sailors. The nonprofit organization instructs the disabled veterans and takes them out for races on the bay.

Both the Marriott and Challenged America are tenants of the Port of San Diego. Challenged America's co-founder, Urban Miyares, helped get the summer sports clinic off the ground. Miyares is a blinded Vietnam veteran.

"When we first proposed a Summer Sports Clinic to the VA in 1996, those involved with VA sports therapy excitedly endorsed it," Miyares said. "But I knew we then needed to convince those in Washington, DC that it was a valuable asset, and complemented the already successful Winter Sports Clinic held each year in Colorado.

"Challenged America has been providing successful water-sports activities for therapeutic purposes to severely and catastrophically disabled veterans for more than 30 years," he continued. "Today's VA Summer Sports Clinic is but an extension of an already successful San Diego-based charitable program matching the VA's goals."

Kate Lind from Madison, Wisconsin arrived in San Diego with her husband, Fred Lind, a quadraplegic. He served as an air traffic controller for the Navy. He was injured two years ago.

"We're just kind of adjusting to things," Kate Lind said. "(The injury) is a life changer. But being able to come to this clinic is a huge morale boost."

Volunteers worked with Fred Lind to get him positioned into a recumbent cycle. After meticulous adjustments, to get him securely in the cycle, he was off down the bike path, with his wife, by his side – also on a bike.

"This gives us hope," she said.

vasportsclinic2-reelsThe event is not a race, but don't tell that to Blair Reels, of New York.

"It's been five years since I rode a bike and it's great," Reels said, a smile beaming from his face.

Reels suffered a spinal cord injury and a brain injury. But he was riding high following his first spin on the specialized bicycle.

"I want one," he said, with sweat beading down his face. "I don't have to worry about falling. It's something I can do on my own, while my girlfriend and my family are at work."

In addition to the events, there are also opportunities for veterans to find out if they qualify for jobs with the VA.

"We're here to make sure they are aware of possible job opportunities, career paths and funding for education," said Darren Sherrard, marketing manager with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For more information, visit VACareers.VA.Gov.

Each day of the week will bring a new group of veterans to each clinic, as the teams rotate throughout the events.

"This entire event is about team work," Tostenrude said, smiling. "It's all about the vets."

This event fulfills the mission of attracting the public to the waterfront, managed by the Port of San Diego.

The Port of San Diego was created by the state legislature in 1962 and is responsible for $1.7 billion in public improvements in its five member cities: Imperial Beach, San Diego, Coronado, Chula Vista and National City.

The Port oversees two maritime cargo terminals, two cruise ship terminals, 17 public parks, various wildlife reserves and environmental initiatives, a Harbor Police Department and administers the leases of more than 600 tenant and sub-tenant businesses around San Diego Bay.