TAMPA — In advance of the Warrior Games coming to Tampa, the Wounded Warrior Project is teaching veterans in the Tampa Bay Area more about "adaptive sports."
The Department of Defense announced at the beginning of the year that the Warrior Games, a competition established in 2010 to help veterans rehabilitate through adaptive sports, would be taking place in Tampa next year in part because the Tampa area is home to many military veterans.
The Warrior Games in 2019 will be hosted by U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, and will feature competitions in sports like cycling, archery, shooting, track and field, swimming, volleyball and basketball.
Adaptive Sports, also known as parasports or disabled sports, are sports activities adapted for people with physical disabilities, such as sitting volleyball or wheelchair basketball, in which the traditional rules are tweaked in order to embrace disabilities.
The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a national non-profit organization that connects veterans to free programs and to each other and is now in its 15th year, is now trying something a little different than what they usually do, and thinks it will have a big impact on getting veterans to stick with team sports.
"We were flying them to this coast, flying them to that coast, and then they'd come back home and sit at home," explains Bill Hannigan, the Adaptive Sports Specialist for the Wounded Warrior Project. "Our goal is now to tap them into the local community," Hannigan tells ABC Action News.
That means connecting veterans to adaptive sports programs already in their communities.
"You're just connecting the dots," adds Hannigan.
Tuesday and Wednesday, the WWP is holding Sled Hockey, Wheelchair Softball, Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Tennis at facilities across the Tampa Bay Area, featuring more than a dozen injured veterans from Central Florida to learn about these types of sports as a way to get exercise as well as encourage socializing and camaraderie.
The WWP is not affiliated with the Warrior Games, but like the WWP, the 2019 Games will be a major local showcase of adaptive sports.
Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera tells ABC Action News that it was a medically retired Marine from Tampa, who lost limbs in Afghanistan, who first pushed for the idea of bringing the Warrior Games to Tampa.
Nicholson has won several medals in previous Warrior Games events, and with the urging of the Tampa City Council, he successfully lobbied SOCom to bring the games to Tampa.