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Former soldier gears up to compete in National Veteran Wheelchair Games in July

Las Vegas Sun - 5/16/2024

May 16—Letoi Adams did not know how to ski until after she became disabled.

Adams, 40, is a U.S. Army veteran who became paralyzed due to cancer 13 years ago and has been a wheelchair user ever since.

"The goal is for us to get out on the slopes and try to be more independent," she says. "This time, I was able to get out there three times."

She is gearing up for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games July 25-30 in New Orleans. Veterans will compete in activities such as basketball, track and field, bocce ball and an obstacle course.

Adams says she is thankful for adaptive sports for saving her from the isolation that plagued the early days of her paralysis journey.

For the first five years that she was paralyzed, Adams did not leave home. When she finally began leaving the house, it was to play on adaptive sports teams including basketball and football.

Now, she has the confidence to go on solo excursions to places like casinos and movie theaters.

Adams also plays for a wheelchair football team called the Las Vegas Raiders — the NFL team is a supporter of the team and league.

"I'm very independent, and I don't really feel like it (would) happen like that if I didn't have my community," Adams says.

Sports have also given her a chance to travel.

She was one of a disabled veterans from Southern Nevada who last month participated in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado.

All participants in the winter sports event were required to try adaptive skiing. Other events included: sled hockey, fishing, curling, snowmobiling, cycling, rock climbing, snowshoeing, and enjoying the hot springs.

"I think we never stop learning," said Teresa Parks, director of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. "I think one of the biggest things that I push for as the director of the winter sports clinic is what can we do better?"

Volunteers and staff used a variety of methods to adapt the sports to be safe for participants.

Sled hockey, for example, was played fully seated. Adams says they were also offered extra bandages and padding for sensitive skin and injury prevention.

For snowmobiling, equipment helps transfer participants with spinal cord injuries into the snowmobile, which is equipped with a backboard and straps to provide support.

She refers to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic as a "family reunion" and says she sees no difference between the veterans' community and the disabled community because they share common experiences. She says she enjoyed the camaraderie of this year's winter sports clinic.

Parks says some of their participants were new to having a spinal cord injury or visual impairment and still learning to adjust, so this event was their first time traveling with their new disability.

"I know that we have had countless, countless veterans share with us that they were in a very, very, very dark place before coming to the winter sports clinic and left a completely different person," Parks says.

That includes Adams, who has a message for those who are newly disabled or considering trying adaptive sports: "I would tell them that adaptive sports changed my life and you should give it a try."

emma.brocato@gmgvegas.com / 702-990-8923

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