Burke's 2019 Wheelchair Games – Athletes Combine Fun With Recovery


The Wheelchair Games typically include participants who span the age spectrum – from as young as five years old on up to 70. They compete in a variety of events such as wheelchair slalom races, javelin throwing, and table tennis, and they all get a plaque and a goody bag containing bandanas donated by Wholesale For Everyone. This year's Wheelchair Games, the 40th annual held on September 21, boasted 50 athletes. In addition, a new twist this year was the incorporation into the Games of the Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Sports and Vendor Expo in honor of Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month (September).

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Flag Bandanas Donated by Wholesale For Everyone

On Saturday, September 21, at the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital's 60-acre campus in White Plains, New York, a memorable event took place. No, it didn't involve any celebrities or stars you're familiar with, but there was media coverage and some indisputable winners. In short, the whole thing was a huge success – thanks to all the dedicated volunteers and donors.

The event was the 40th annual 2019 Wheelchair Games. And the winners were all the brave athletes who participated.

The Venue

Burke Rehabilitation Hospital opened in 1915 and has "been a leader in medical rehabilitation for more than one hundred years." It is accredited by both the Joint Commission and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities – "the gold standards for acute care rehabilitation hospitals in the United States today." This remarkable hospital has been "academically affiliated with the prestigious Albert Einstein College of Medicine" for the past few years.

Welcoming patients from across the country and around the world, "Burke provides inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for a broad range of neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiac, and pulmonary disabilities caused by disease or injury." Most often, patients at Burke have been transferred from acute-care hospitals after stabilization of their conditions.

Patients participate in intensive, custom-tailored programs involving physical, occupational, and speech therapy. This "personalized care is the result of expert, interdisciplinary teams, led by a remarkable range of medical specialists" – including "neurologists, physiatrists, internists, rheumatologists, pulmonologists, and neurophysiologists. The intensive therapy regimens can involve as much as 15 hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy every week.

Because Burke aims to treat the whole person, not merely the body, "[r]ecreational therapy, chaplain visits, patient greenhouse activities and family support groups are also available. These resources explain Burke's national reputation for excellence and its consistent success helping patients achieve their maximum recovery."

And that is exactly why the Wheelchair Games exist – to instill confidence and promote recovery through active fun.

The Event

The Wheelchair Games typically include participants who span the age spectrum – from as young as five years old on up to 70. They compete in a variety of events such as wheelchair slalom races, javelin throwing, and table tennis, and they all get a plaque and a goody bag containing bandanas donated by Wholesale For Everyone.

Here's how their website describes this event: "Burke's campus will transform into a unique forum for sportsmanship, camaraderie, and determination. The sporting event allows disabled persons to show their ability in a variety of track, field, and table tennis events. Sports are known for their therapeutic benefits, and the Wheelchair Games help athletes build strength, coordination, endurance, and self-confidence, allowing those with physical impairments the ability to stay active and to enjoy the competition."

There's a lot of food and sheer fun in conjunction with sweating in the athletic events. Volunteers set up a huge tent in the parking lot where lunch is served for the event. In addition, there is musical entertainment, along with silent auctions and chance raffles to raise money for the cause. And because the athletes aren't competing against one another – rather, building confidence to help them in their rehabilitation and recovery – they all get a trophy.

This year's Wheelchair Games, the 40th annual held on September 21, boasted 50 athletes. In addition, a new twist this year was the incorporation into the Games of the Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Sports and Vendor Expo in honor of Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month (September). Vendors presented on "topics such as adaptive equipment, new technologies, services, and products relevant to life after SCI," with "adaptive sports and interactive product demonstrations" in the afternoon. Co-Chair Dona Rumney reported that this addition to the Games was very well received.

The Winners

The 50 athletes competed in a variety of events – track and field events, table tennis, a slalom (obstacle) race, and basketball free throw. Here's a rundown of the various events:

  • Field events, 9:00 am to noon, Quadrangle

  • Slalom, 9:00 am to noon, Research Parking Lot

  • Table tennis,9:00 am to noon, Sports Center Gum

  • Basketball free throw, 11:00 am to noon, Research Parking Lot

  • Wheelchair basketball exhibition, 11;45 am to 12:30 pm, Research Parking Lot

  • Track events, 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm, Track

Although every single athlete in the Wheelchair Game is a winner, here are the standouts (and teams) in each category:

  • Best Novice (any age) – Male: Delmace Mays

  • Best Junior (ages 6-22) – Male: Magiting "Kiko" Mina, Lightning Wheels; Female: Katie Brennan, HSC Cruisers

  • Best Adult (ages 23-34) – Male: Peter Elkinob, independent; Female: Shaniqua Freeman, Team Adapt

  • Best Master (ages 35-59) – Male: Mario Ojeda, Bronx VA; Female: Vernita Paige, Team Adapt

  • Best Senior Master (60 and over) – Female: Gloria Murray, independent

  • Best Field Athlete – Male: Tyler Ball, Rochester Rookies; Female: Natalia Jablonski, HSC Cruisers

  • Best Table Tennis Athlete – Male: Magiting "Kiko" Mina, Lightning Wheels; Female: Caitlin Goerlich, independent

  • Best Slalom Athlete – Male: Adrian Persap, NYRR; Female: Maggie Fusco, HSC Cruisers

And this year's winner of the prestigious Maureen Ryan-Carr Award was Charles Garcia. As more of an all-around sportsmanship award, the Maureen Ryan-Carr Award is given to the athlete who best embodies the core values and true meaning of what the Wheelchair Games.

Just as others have been for decades, these wheelchair athletes came from all over the tri-state area (and beyond) to compete in the 40th edition of the Wheelchair Games at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital.

The Coverage and Special Entertainment

Now let's look at a few other highlights of the Wheelchair Games . . .

  • Radio station WHUD set up in Burke's Garage Building and provided local coverage from 8:00 am to 10:00. WHUD's Janet May contributed to the silent auction/chance raffle, and Tom Furci provided morning entertainment.

  • And national coverage came from Z100 radio station (iHeart Media) in the Research Parking Lot from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, with iHeart Media's Jody Berger Wenig contributing to the silent auction/chance raffle. Z100's Garret provided the lunchtime entertainment.

  • The incredible (and sought-after) magician Chris Anthony performed magic tricks for the entertainment of all.

  • Aleksandra and Dianna Willis offered face painting and tattooing.

The Donors

Burke and the Wheelchair Games committee depend on the generosity of their gracious donors for funding and for prizes for the athletes. Really, there are too many to acknowledge here, so let's just consider the goody bag every participant receives.

These complimentary goody bags have in the past included items like bobble-head dolls, cough drops, and toothbrushes. But a consistent favorite over the past several years has been the custom-printed bandanas from Wholesale For Everyone. According to Rumney, the athletes love these bandanas. In fact, she pointed out, they often take out the bandana first to wear on their heads the rest of the day.

Rumney went on to say that Wholesale For Everyone is "a really great supporter of Burke's Wheelchair Games" and that the quality of the bandanas is "great." When asked how she liked working the Wholesale For Everyone, she said, "They are amazing! Great. Really, really good."

Next Year

Next year's 41st annual Wheelchair Games is already in the planning stages although the date is uncertain at this point. For next year, the Wheelchair Games committee is handing off oversight and management of the event to Burke's Community Relations division. But committee members will remain available to provide any needed guidance.

So be ready: there will be a 2020 Wheelchair Games, and it will be just as spectacular as ever.

If you live in the tri-state area, why not donate or get involved to help these deserving athletes, mostly young people, overcome their challenges?


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