This is one of a series of The Zoom Life articles featuring Zoom recipients who participated in this year’s National Veteran Wheelchair Games.
The National Veteran Wheelchair Games bring together veterans from across the country to engage in competition, enjoy camaraderie and join a community. The Games are presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). The 36th Annual National Veteran Wheelchair Games took place in Salt Lake City from June 27 – July 2, 2016. The Games are a sports and rehabilitation program open to U.S. military service veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments. Approximately 20 events are available to compete in and competitors of all levels are welcome.

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Buddy Mays has always been an active guy and he has not allowed his wheelchair to slow him down. He found his motivation to remain active by participating in adaptive sports which was just the therapy that he needed to restore normalcy to his life after injury. Buddy has been participating in the Wheelchair Games for the past ten years and recommends that any veteran, who qualifies, participates in the Games at least once. “Your first year is free, I can guarantee you if you’ll go to the Wheelchair Games the first year, you’ll go every year.”

For Buddy, the Games are as much about camaraderie as they are about competition and he enjoys spending one week out of year where being in a chair is what’s “normal”. “There’s 600 wheelchairs, we are the majority out there which makes it unique within itself. Everywhere you go there’s chairs. That’s probably the only time of the year when I can say that. At home, you hardly ever see another chair, but out there everyone’s in a chair!” He said with a chuckle. Though novices are always welcome at the Games, there also more competitive levels for each of the sports. This year, Buddy participated in some games for the first time and in others as a seasoned veteran. His favorite event is the Slalom and for the first time in his eight years of competing in the event, he qualified to go on and compete in the Super G, one of only eight to do so.

The slalom event which Buddy describes as “a whole lot of pain” is designed to simulate obstacles that a wheelchair user might encounter out in the real world. “The course is setup to represent obstacles that they (participants) will encounter everyday. If they’re able to complete that course, they can face the challenges that they will encounter in the real world…They gain confidence on the course Which is a biggie, especially on a new injury,” Buddy explained. Buddy is passionate about helping others adjust to life with a wheelchair and to find their “aha” sport that will reignite their competitive spark and encourage them to live life to the fullest. “Just try as many adaptive sports as you can try and you’ll run across that one that is going to be a life changing sport, I call it the ‘aha’ sport,” he advises. For him, that sport is tennis. “When I picked up tennis it was like “Ahhhhh” like angels singing in the rapture or whatever…”, Buddy said with a laugh.

It’s that passion that makes “kid’s day” at the Games so special for Buddy. He recognizes that for children who have a lifetime ahead of them in a wheelchair it is especially important to learn that they can stay active and get involved in sports. “That’s really my heart – kids in chairs. Adaptive sports in chairs changed my life so much and I was 32, so if you can start as a kid that’s six or seven years old… a sport in general can be life-changing for that kid for the rest of their life and they still have their whole life ahead of them.”
This year, Buddy took home a gold medal in weightlifting and the slalom event. But he is most proud of qualifying for the Super G. When he is at home, Buddy competes regularly in tennis and cross-fit. He received his Zoom in 2015 thanks to Independence Fund and lives his life every day truly as A FREE MIND MOTION!