Sports action in the Tampa Bay area has been upbeat and notable on fields and courts recently in mid-summer Florida sun.
July brought the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games to the Tampa Convention Center, and later in the steamy month, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened up their NFL training camp at One Buccaneer Place.
Much action was preceded by even more action.
A coveted summer surge of game results called MLB wins also piled up through the gritty efforts of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team.
It’s become a hot summer in Tampa in many ways.
But focusing on the efforts of dedicated veteran athletes who have lost legs or the use of their legs resonates to anyone observing their spirited wheelchair play.
Before footballs flew, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and able staff took to wheelchairs to compete with select skilled veterans in a ceremonial demonstration basketball game.
Buckhorn shared his thoughts about getting into a wheelchair and competing on the basketball court set up near Tampa’s hockey arena.
“Even though I was losing, I was having fun,” Buckhorn said. “These are great athletes. It’s a special ability to be able to maneuver these chairs and to shoot. Clearly, I was not good at it, but these guys are amazing.”
Wheelchair athlete James Green explained the Veteran prowess.
“We do a lot of exhibitions playing against teachers,” Green said. “It takes time to move the chair, dribbling the ball and shooting the basket without using your legs. Nobody jumps in a chair and does well on the first try. It takes a couple years to get good at it.”
A few weeks after the NVWG concluded, Buccaneers players took to their training field in preparation of season 2013. Some shared their feelings about the veteran athletes as well.
When Buccaneers tackle Demar Dotson was asked about wheelchair competitors who were in Tampa recently, he had quick comments.
“When you see guys doing that, it’s amazing because it’s a never-give-up mentality,” Dotson said. “It makes you appreciate life. Anything may happen in life, but you can’t get down. If I see what those guys are doing, I have no excuses. They inspire me.”
Dotson was informed that the mayor with staff were no match for the veteran players, he understood.
“If I got in one, they’d blow me away too.”
Wheelchair Veteran Jake Hipps came a long way from Buffalo, N.Y., to compete in the NVWG.
“These are my brothers,” Hipps said. “These are guys that go to war for our country, for me, for everyone else. This is the best physical therapy that they can have. Better than they get at the hospital when they come here and group with us.”
Hipps explained his progression as a wheelchair athlete.
“This is a stepping stone,” Hipps said. “Even for me in the beginning, I didn’t think I could do anything. I didn’t want to do anything. The same guys like me, I’m helping. The older guys helped me. They sure uncovered a lot of doubts when they uncovered me.”
Buccaneers tight end Danny Noble shared his thoughts about the wheelchair athletes.
“Those guys, they got to find a way up just like everybody else,” Noble said. “They want to be athletic. They can do it once you set your mind to it, and great things can happen—athletic and everything.”
When informed that the wheelchair athlete easily defeated the Tampa mayor and team, Noble smiled.
“That’s their sport,” He said. “They do that every day. He’s the mayor every day. They be the man every day.”
Wheelchair athlete Enrique Lopez commented on what the Games meant to him.
“I love sports, and I love competing,” Lopez said. “People don’t realize when they show up at this wheelchair event, they don’t know how much that means to us as a person. Just this event. Just their presence. It means a lot.”
The Tampa mayor was proud to have NVWG in Tampa.
“It’s an honor,” Buckhorn said. “Obviously, the economics are good too, but more importantly, the camaraderie, the ability to tell these guys’ stories, to show the world that they are players, men and women that can get the job done. That’s my pleasure.”
Sports action, especially in summer, has many forms, thrills and rewards.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.