TAMPA, Fla. — Davis Celestine and Steven Lewis both suffered spinal cord injuries while serving in the Navy and Army, respectively. But adversity hasn't slowed their competitive spirit. Both veterans started training and competing in adaptive sports. They're not only winning, they're excelling. The pair combined for five medals (four gold, one bronze) at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games held July 7 through 12 in Tempe, Ariz.
The list of events for this duo included weightlifting, bocce, bowling, table tennis, shot put, discus, javelin, softball, a slalom obstacle course, and rugby.
"We accommodate and we overcome," Celestine said with a grin. "We have a lot of over achievers in the Wheelchair Games. We make it happen."
Lewis, 54, said he had to make a choice when he chose how to adjust to life in a wheelchair. He chose a path that literally led to gold.
"I can be disabled and mad, or I can be disabled and happy," Lewis said. "So I might as well go the happy route. As soon as I did that, as a soon as that happened, well, what’s next?"
What's next was training and competing with and against athletes who know what it's like to fight through obstacles. Wheelchair rugby is one adaptive sport that's gaining popularity. Lewis said it's just another way for competitors to test themselves, especially for those who are new to the sport.
"It’s a perfect environment. They help you, and they cheer you on," he added. "Sometimes they hit you hard, but you get used to it. I don’t think you’re nervous. It’s a physical game, because you’ve watched it before on the sideline. When you’re an athlete, when you’re a competitor... getting hurt? I don’t even think that crosses your mind."
Celestine pointed out that despite the fact that these athletes are playing to win, they also want to empower their fellow veterans.
"You just try to be that individual that lends that listening ear, and just give them that support that they need," Celestine said.
"You only see them once a year. So it’s fun to see them," Lewis added. "You get to catch up when you get there. Then it’s down to business after that."
Celestine, 47, won the Spirit of the Games Award, given to the athlete who shows exceptional drive and commitment. But like a true MVP, he said it's all about the team effort.
"The whole ideal [of the Spirit of the Games Award] is someone who actually gives of themselves relentless- to others, without thinking about themselves first," Celestine said about the honor. "You just want to make sure that your partners understand that we’re making you stronger. We’re building you up so you can become a better person in life."
Lewis' smile lit up the room when talking about how all of the positive energy around these competitions makes him eager to go on to the next one.
"That makes you feel like, wait 'til next year. I’m getting better. I’m drinking my milk. That’s alright."