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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Opening Ceremony, 30th Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Denver, CO
July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth, everybody. Two hundred and thirty-four years ago today, our great Republic was born. Now, the Army and the Marine Corps would remind all of us that they are older than the Republic itself, each having been formed the year before, in 1775. I know that, in our midst, is a very fine contingent from the United Kingdom — our closest and most reliable ally for the past two centuries. As we celebrate the 234th anniversary of America’s independence, we remember that shared legacy as we also celebrate, today, the independence of our nation’s Veterans from the shackles of disability. This is an important time and an important event. Thank you all for being here.

Rick Crandall: many thanks for your kind introduction.

Congressman Perlmutter: This is his district. We are his guests. And we are honored to have him here to greet us. Congressman, thank you;

To our PVA co-hosts: Gene Crayton, Homer Townsend, and Andy Krieger—thank you and Team PVA for this year’s very fine showing;

Next, Team VA—Glenn Grippen, Tom Brown, Lynette Roff, Amanda Eckman—thanks to each of you and every member of your teams.

To the nearly 2,500 volunteers: Do the math— here are 600 competitors here and 2,500 volunteers—four volunteers for every competitor. That’s what it takes to put on an event like this. Our heartfelt thanks for giving up this holiday to be here for Veterans;

To all our sponsors, whom we formally thanked last evening, let me just add that your generosity and selflessness fuel the passions of our workers and volunteers. Thank you, once again;

Finally and most importantly, to all our competitors: We are so happy to see you. Thanks for showing up. This week is about you. For the other 51 weeks of the year, your wheelchairs largely define you — what you can do or can’t, where you can go or can’t, that you are the minority in a sea of the able bodied. Well, this week, you are it, and the rest of us are only here to support you. I know you’ve come to compete—and we are here to help you get the best out of yourselves. We all salute you!

Welcome to the 30th Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Let me say that again— the 30th Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. We could not have picked a better day to kick this off. Your devotion to country has kept us free and given all Americans the privileges and opportunities to celebrate this birthday, like all other special holidays, secure in the knowledge that we are safe and free.

This year, nearly 600 competitors have gathered in Denver—to share the camaraderie, and to find out what they’re made of. As a group, you run a gamut of experience. Some are here for the first time, and may be wondering what you’re doing here. Some are back for yet another round of the best wheelchair rehabilitation activity in the world—because you know the healing effects of stiff competition and warm camaraderie. Amongst us are some of the “pros,” who went on from events like this one to compete as world-class athletes at the national and international levels.

But everyone here is already a winner—you’ve gotten off the couch, put self-pity behind you, and have decided to bear down, dig deeper, and push the envelope of physical and mental endurance.

You are role models for all of us—all of us, not just the wheelchair-bound. I can’t describe every example, but let me mention just one:

Jim Milliken—a Vietnam Veteran and Paralympian swimmer, who competed in his first Wheelchair Games in 1982. With 31 years of competitive wheelchair sports experience, Jim underscores the value of these games when he says, and I quote: “After my injury, it was wheelchair sports that got me out and active again. It made a big difference in my rehabilitation and my life in general.” End quote.

Jim Milliken—and the other Paralympians named earlier, who are with us this week—set examples for the rest of us. They did not just accept the limitations of their disabilities. They triumphed over them. They truly set the high bar in living strong. Each of us can, likewise, serve as a role model for others contending with similar challenges.

Some of you will do just that this Thursday, when you host our tenth annual “Kids Day” at Denver City Park. It’s your opportunity to share with children your lessons about living with disability—about striving for excellence every day, and about serving others. Veterans never stop serving. And, when you leave here this week, take with you the healing power of these games, and share that power with others with disabilities in your communities.

Events like this one are about more than just one week in your lives. It’s about deciding how to live the other 51 weeks of the year—demanding more from each of us, reaching higher and achieving more challenging goals, and then coming back next year better prepared, not just to enjoy, but also to reclaim more of life.

So, on behalf of all of us, who’ve come here to cheer you on, Godspeed and good luck this week.

God bless our men and women in uniform, God bless out Veterans, and may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours. Thank you.