Reflections on the National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Earlier this month, Leidos sponsored the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, co-hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). As both the 40th anniversary of the Games and the 20th anniversary since the Games were last held in New York City, this year represented a particularly emotional homecoming for many of the competitors.
Our own Robert Fecteau has competed in the Games for the past 10 years and attended as a representative of Leidos in the Big Apple this year. With an event so near to his heart, he documented his experience at the 2021 National Veterans Wheelchair Games:
"The combination of my past-experience at the Games and the experience of so viscerally being among others after the isolation of the pandemic helped me to see just how important this year was for the veterans who participated. Also of note, the last time the Games were held in New York City was prior to the September 11th attacks. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the Games involve many who were called to action and subsequently returned with the injuries that now make this competition a vital part of their rehabilitation process. Now, with the news of what’s happening in Afghanistan, many struggle with the value of our mission and the meaning of our sacrifices.
What I saw this past week, however, were veterans — new and old — who were proud to be there, who understood the larger context of our work abroad, and who brought a level of competition that moved everyone to the edge of their seat, not just those of us who navigate this world in wheelchairs.
My career with Leidos began nearly eight years ago as a participant in the games. The Health Group President at the time recognized the importance of the Games early on and became a champion sponsor, specifically drawn to wheelchair rugby. After one of my first matches, he provided me with his business card and told me to look him up when I completed my graduate program. It was a pivotal moment in my life, offered by a complete stranger at the time. I like to think he saw something in me, but I think — more importantly — he believed in the continued value of the communities that attend these games. All these years later, I am incredibly proud and grateful that Leidos continues to demonstrate that commitment not just to veterans, but also to their healing and their health.
It was incredibly meaningful that this year I was able to sit next to current Health Group President Liz Porter at Rucker Park — a street court that has seen the games of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earl the Pearl, and Dr. J — watching chair-on-chair action as the heat radiated off the court. As a sponsor, I was able to witness the semi-final match go into double overtime and ultimately be decided by sudden death free throws.
Over the course of a week, there is so much more that I could share. I also connected with countless veterans, being sure to show those who were new to the Games the same tough love and mentorship that I received when I began competing years ago.
For those who have never attended, it can be easy to miss how riveting the competition is, how impressive the demonstrations of athleticism. For some it can be easy to associate the inspiration with the body and not the individual, or to see the accomplishments of the moment instead of the life that lead to that moment. I am thankful for a company that invests in our communities, that offers employee resource groups like MAG and A4, that approaches health holistically, and that engages with the military community throughout the entire lifecycle of our journey. I left the 2021 Games reinvigorated and with a continued respect and dedication to Leidos and the community of veterans I hold so close to my heart. I look forward to what the 2022 Games in Tempe, Arizona will bring and I hope to see you there."