Nothing, it seems, was going to keep Sequim's Lenora Stern from this year's National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
Not distance, not the time away from home, not even the multiple sclerosis that's doing its best to damage her brain and spinal cord, muscles, vision, speech and more.
"I want to see the other athletes," says Stern, 73, "that are far worse off than I am really get excited about something in their lives other than just sitting in a wheelchair. That, and the camaraderie."
The Sequim veteran is a 13-time games gold medalist, the lone non-gold finish (she took silver) was in ramp-assisted bowling in 2007.
That year, in Milwaukee, Wis., Stern took gold in table tennis, air guns (quad with assistance) and the power chair 200, an event much like a track & field 200-meter race only with power wheelchairs.
Last year, however, a medical test kept Stern from attending the games that were held in Omaha, Neb.
"I was really disappointed I couldn't go last year," she says.
This year, it's closer to home as Spokane hosts the 29th-annual event in venues across the city.
That's where Stern is this week, with the opening ceremonies taking place Monday and the final events and closing ceremonies set for July 18.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America host these games, the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world for military veterans who are wheelchair athletes. Veterans participating in the Wheelchair Games have served in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, the Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea and even World War II.
The 17 events in 2009 include basketball, swimming, hand cycling and softball.
Stern, just as in 2007, is competing in four events. She's entered in bowling, air gun (assisted), the power chair 200 and the motor rally, a 10-station challenge that has competitors answering trivia questions and collecting playing cards at each interval.
This event, organizers say, is designed to encourage veterans to maintain healthy and active lifestyles despite challenges they may face.
More importantly, Stern says, the games get veterans into the system of networking with other veterans and making sure they get the benefits and medical assistance they need.
Stern is part of a Northwest team that includes athletes from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. With nearly 30 athletes on the squad, and 11 of those rookies, Stern says she's excited for this year's games.
This is Stern's fifth National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
Stern joined the United States Navy at age 19, serving at bases in Maryland and Texas. She worked as a dental assistant in the Navy, then transistioned into a position with the Clallam County Sheriff's Department before health problems encouraged her retirement.
One bad spell with multiple sclerosis left her blind for two days.
The disease didn't stop Stern from having a family, however; she had five healthy children and now boasts of her 16 grandchildren.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the
National Veterans Wheelchair Games?
The games are a multi-event sports and rehabilitation program for military service veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems.
With more than 600 athletes participating in Spokane this year, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world. It began in 1981 with fewer than 100 athletes.
Competitive events at the Wheelchair Games include swimming, table tennis, weightlifting, archery, air guns, basketball, softball, quad rugby, bowling, hand cycling, wheelchair slalom, power soccer, a motorized wheelchair rally and track and field.
Athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age. A power chair relay was offered as an exhibition event this year.
Athletes compete within three divisions: Masters (over age 40), Novice (first-time competitors in the games), and Open (all others, or those who chose to compete in this category).
They also compete within classes according to the level of their physical ability, with three quadriplegic-level classes (IA, IB, and IC), and four paraplegic-level or amputee classes (II, III, IV, and V).
Sponsors include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, plus financial assistance from corporate, civic and veterans service organizations.
See the 2009 games Web site at www1.va.gov/vetevent/nvwg/2009/.