Slaughter competes in wheelchair games

Published 8:54 pm Thursday, July 30, 2009

Roderick Slaughter competed in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games for the second straight summer recently in Spokane, Wash.

Even in only his second trip to the Games, Slaughter, a Marine Corps veteran who is a paraplegic, is already a veteran of what the Games are all about.

If the Games need a spokesman to recruit more participants and spectators, Slaughter should be their guy.

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“It’s just like a family reunion. It’s just like a reunion because you meet people you only see once a year, but it’s all about camaraderie,” said Slaughter.

Slaughter was in Spokane for the Games, which ran from July 13 to 18. The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Athletes can compete into up to five of 17 sports during the Games.

Slaughter competed in air rifle, discus, nine ball and softball. Only air rifle was a repeat event from the four sports Slaughter played last summer.

“Each year I try to do something different so I’ll get experience in each thing,” said Slaughter.

“Right now, it’s just my second year,” said Slaughter, 48. “I’m going to continue to do everything, and that way I can figure out best exactly what to compete in consistently.”

While being an all-around sportsman and ambassador for the Games, bringing home a gold medal makes the long trip worth it, too.

Slaughter was part of the championship softball team, which was undefeated in three games. It was the first time playing softball for Slaughter, but the point of the Games was about introducing new sports to wheelchair-bound athletes as much as winning.

No organized teams come to the Games. Instead, teams are chosen at the start of the Games. While Slaughter said he’s still experimenting with as many sports as possible, softball seems like it’ll be a permanent part of his trips every summer now.

“I’m definitely going to try it again next year.

“It’s just about learning and participating, win or lose, everyone’s still out there,” said Slaughter.

“We had two guys who were very experienced. I think that’s why they picked the teams, so no one would be out of place. Those two guys were very good. They were very good at hitting and fielding.”

Slaughter’s attempts at as many sports as he can fit in are working the other way around, too. Last year, Slaughter competed in the slalom event, a sport in which competitors maneuver as quickly as possible through a tight, maze-like course.

“I keep saying I’m not going to do it anymore. It was a good experience and a very good workout, but, maybe as I get a little bit better with it I’ll want to compete in it again.”

Slaughter placed fourth in the nine-ball billiards competition and improved in the air rifle event since last summer.

Slaughter also has two trips to the National Veterans Wheelchair Winter Games, where he’s taken up skiing.

“If it’s up to me, I’m going to make it to the Games every year,” said Slaughter, who’s even trying to encourage others to go and trying to bring athletic opportunities to the Suffolk area.

“It’s a great experience. Anyone in a wheelchair should try it at least once.”

Slaughter was part of a group to go from the VA Hospital in Richmond. Even apart from the sports, the trip out west was worth it.

“It was really nice. We stayed next to a nice park, and there was a mall just down the street. We had a day off to go sightseeing and take pictures.”

The Games had more than 3,000 volunteers working to help make everything smooth for more than 600 athletes.

“A lot of young kids took time out to volunteer. They did everything. They helped us with our chairs and gave out food and water,” said Slaughter.

Much closer to home, Slaughter’s working to drum up support and players for a wheelchair basketball league. Other cities in the region have basketball leagues and wheelchair rugby leagues, said Slaughter.

Slaughter said he’s trying to work with the Inner City Athletic Association, the organization that runs the Suffolk Steelers Pop Warner football teams, and some friends in Norfolk to put together an exhibition basketball game to generate more interest.

No matter what though, the 30th Annual Veterans Wheelchair Games are already set for next summer in Denver.