Marine Veteran Tim Conner competed in power lifting during the 39th Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Louisville, Kentucky, earning gold.
Conner works with his health care providers and recreational therapists at the Lake City VA Medical Center (VAMC) year-round, setting goals in preparation of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
A T9 spinal cord fracture during a motocross accident several years ago derailed Conner. He has not let being paralyzed stop him from competing in extreme sports.
During this year’s games, he participated in power lifting, team relay, javelin, shot put, slalom, super G, Spartan obstacle racing and wheelchair distance racing.
Veterans with the fastest scores in slalom advance to take part in super G, an extreme obstacle racing sport. Conner took home gold medals in both slalom and super G for the past two years and has plans to continue to challenge himself again next year.
Air rifle. Done. Next: Softball
“Each year, he has been willing to challenge himself with a new sport,” Recreation Therapist Katie Blunk said. “Last year it was air rifle. Now I have challenged him with competing in softball, so we will start practicing in a sport chair now.”
Learning new sports and working to make adaptations so that he can participate in the games each year motivates Conner to continue to push himself past his physical limitations.
“What we don’t notice outside, because we aren’t in a chair, are a multitude of obstacles like curbs with no up ramps, holes and bumps in the road, sand, rocks, and pebbles that they have to push their everyday chairs through,” said Blunk.
Learning to maneuver through difficult terrain and obstacles is one of the ways Conner trains for the slalom and super G obstacle courses.
“He is not one to ask for help across these difficult areas,” Blunk said. “He takes on the Marine thought pattern of tackling it head on. While that can cause bumps and bruises quite often, it also is a learning experience. He uses it to fly through slalom and super G courses like those at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.”
Blunk attributes his great attitude and willingness to try anything they throw at him to the success that he has been able to achieve.
Anything is possible
“If anybody thinks they can’t do something, then they haven’t tried to do it yet,” Conner said. “Anything is possible. The more you can get out there and do, and the more active you are, the happier you’ll be.”
Outside of his regular adaptive sports training, Conner participates in hand cycling, wheelchair racing, marathons and flat track four-wheeler racing. He also continues to participate in motocross events using an adaptive dirt bike.
“The wheelchair is just for parking,” Conner joked.
Aside from the action-packed competition, the interaction from spectators at the games is another high point for the athlete.
“Last week while we were getting ready for the super G competition, all of these people and kids started gathering around us,” he said. “They were asking us about the sport we were participating in. They asked us for our autographs like we were rock stars, and really just boosted our morale,” Conner said.
You mean more to people than you think
Conner said he remembers what the limelight feels like from his earlier days as a motocross racer. He’s seen what the added attention during the games does for his comrades’ confidence.
“We really don’t have any limitations,” he said. “We have anything but possibilities. It makes you realize that you’re not just a guy in a wheelchair, that you mean more to people than what you think, and for a lot of athletes that makes all the difference.”
The Lake City VA Medical Center’s Adaptive Sports program provides Veterans with opportunities for health and healing. They offer specialized rehabilitation activities aimed to optimize Veterans’ independence, community engagement, well-being, and quality of life. To learn more, about the adaptive sports programs available to Veterans, visit https://www.blogs.va.gov/nvspse/.
Melanie L. Thomas, MBA, is a public affairs specialist at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.