The Lufkin Daily News
East Texas woman doesn't allow disability
to ruin competitive desire
By BRONWYN TURNER| The Lufkin Daily News
After suffering a disabling stroke, Air Force veteran JoAn Lance learned to jump through bureaucratic hoops in finding help.
Then four years ago, she jumped into a different kind of benefit program — the largest sporting event in the world for senior veterans. At the urging of a friend, she enrolled in the National Veterans Golden Age Games, bowling from a chair rigged with a ramp, and playing checkers with her one good arm.
"There's the challenge of doing something you have a chance to win at, because in everyday life, we don't always get praised for a lot of things," she said, speaking by phone from her home near Etoile. "Washing dishes doesn't bring you much praise."
Lance, who joined the Air Force in 1953 and spent 2 1/2 years serving in the military, struggles to complete such routine tasks as washing dishes. A stroke in 1993 affected her left side, leaving her left arm useless, and her left leg in a brace.
She has lived in the Etoile area for more than a year now, next door to her daughter, Karin Wilson, who helps with transportation and other needs. The Department of Veterans Affairs has provided rehabilitation, medical and other services.
Her contact with the VA qualified the 70-year-old for the National Veterans Golden Age Games, held annually for military veterans age 55 and older who receive medical care through the VA. The event, sponsored by the VA, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Ladies Auxiliary, and the Veterans Canteen Service, provides a national showcase for the therapeutic value of sports, fitness, and recreation in seniors.
The Golden Age Games draw 500 participants from all over the country and as many as 1,500 volunteers, according to news release from the program. This year, the games were held in Norman, Okla. from May 21-28.
Many of the events began as recreational activities at VA hospitals and nursing homes. For the Golden Age games, separate age groups and gender divisions are set in place, and events have been added to accommodate veterans with low motor skills. Adaptive equipment is used to allow non-ambulatory and visually impaired veterans to participate.
Competitive events include swimming, bicycling, golf, shot put, discus, 10-meter air rifle, table tennis, dominoes, shuffleboard, horseshoes, nine-ball, bowling, checkers, and croquet.
Lance, the mother of four, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 10, competes in bowling and checkers. She is a four-time gold medalist in bowling. She's working on her checkers skills, practicing by computer.
Win or lose, the games provide multiple blessings, she stressed. "You feel so proud to be among other veterans; there's a connection even if you don't know them," she said. "There is a real pride in getting to be there as a group."
Her message to other disabled veterans is to encourage them to jump through the hoops to get help, and then come to the games for the fun and fellowship. "Never give up," she said, "When I first had my stroke, I called everywhere trying to find help.
"I discovered if you don't know the question, you can't get the answer," she added. "You just need to keep on asking; just keep on keeping on."
Senior veterans age 55 and older receiving medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs may contact the recreational therapist at the VA facility for information on the Golden Games. Applications will be sent in this winter for next year's games, which are set for Virginia. For more information, check the Web site, www.va.gov, or call (757) 728-3450.
Bronwyn Turner's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.