by Brooke McAfee
JEFFERSONVILLE,IN (NEWS AND TRIBUNE) — For local veteran Ted Rake, watching last year's National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Cincinnati was life-changing.
In 2010, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and he started losing muscle mass and mobility. It felt like his life was over, he said, but the situation changed when he joined the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and started to train for the games.
"Something like this gets you back into life," he said. "It's really easy to give up. Organizations like this are what keeps me going."
This year will be Rake's first time participating in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. He is attending with a group from the Kentucky-Indiana Chapter of PVA, who gathered at a sendoff event Friday in their Jeffersonville office.
The games take place from July 30 to Aug. 4 in Orlando.
Rake served in the U.S. Army in the early 1990s. He was stationed at Fort Campbell, and he left the service after injuring his ankle in a training exercise. It didn't heal correctly, and he had a difficult time walking and running for a while.
He was 40 when he started to experience symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and things started to go downhill. For a while, he was practically bedridden, but he gradually started to gain more strength. He generally uses a wheelchair, but can walk a little bit with a cane.
His disease took away his confidence, and he went through a period of depression. Over the past year, however, he started training in sports ranging from wheelchair fencing to hunting with the PVA, and his life began to improve.
At the upcoming games, he will compete in sports like discus throwing and bocce ball. He can only use part of his body, but he's been building up strength through weekly training exercises.
"If someone is saying I can't, I try to rectify that," he said. "I show them that I can."
It will also be veteran Cara Combs' first time at the games. She will compete in games like discus and javelin throwing, shot put, bocce ball, bowling and quad rugby.
She was a medic in the military for 11 years. In 2001, she was involved in a Humvee accident while stationed in Honduras. Her injuries included damage to her spinal cord and loss of intestines. At first, she was paralyzed from the chest down.
After the injury, she was in bad shape, she said. She went through a period of depression, and for a while, doctors didn't think she would survive. It took a while for her situation to improve, she said.
Eventually, Combs was able to move her arms. She has experienced many other health issues throughout the years, including struggles with kidney failure and breast cancer. Still, she's been trying to train for the games everyday.
"She's very motivated," her wife Kara Combs said. "That's always been her personality, a little bit on the hard-headed side. She goes out in her wheelchair and mows the lawn. She just does whatever."
She was introduced to the PVA shortly after coming home from the hospital, and the organization have taken care of her ever since, she said. She said she appreciates the camaraderie in the group.
Kara said she is both excited and nervous to see her wife participate in the games.
"I know she's very stubborn, and she can wear herself out and won't let anyone know that she's worn out, so I get a little nervous. But I'm excited," she said. "I'm glad she's got something like this to do. It helps to keep her going and keep her wanting to go on."
Army veteran Damon Slaughter, who is paralyzed from multiple sclerosis, said he appreciates how the games have special equipment made for disabled athletes, from different types of wheelchairs to skis.