Suffolk athlete a veteran of Wheelchair Games

Published 10:03 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Suffolk’s Roderick Slaughter won the bronze medal in the archery competition and competed in nine-ball, discus, softball and air rifle at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Pittsburgh from Aug. 1-6. Slaughter, a Marine Corps veteran, plays more sports besides those five, including hand cycling, bowling, golf and skiing.

Roderick Slaughter has been home for about a week after competing in five sports in the National Veteran Wheelchair Games in Pittsburgh. He’s already got next year’s Games on his schedule.

For starters, next year’s Games will be a home game for Slaughter, as they’ll be in Richmond. Slaughter, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and paraplegic, lives in Suffolk and spends time getting medical care, therapy and practicing his wide array of sports, in Richmond.

One more newly-discovered sport is another reason Slaughter’s ready for next summer way ahead of time.

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Slaughter goes three-wheel hand cycling all over downtown Suffolk. The cycle is a sleek, aerodynamic vehicle with three slim tires along the lines of a road bike.

“It’s got 27 different gears. It’ll go as fast as you can push it,” Slaughter said.

From his home in Hollywood, Slaughter cycles to Peanut Park, the Hilton Garden Inn, really anywhere in the downtown area.

The National Games include a five-mile hand cycle race and Slaughter is geared up to be in it next year.

This time around in Pittsburgh, he competed in the air rifle, nine-ball, softball, discus and archery events, winning a bronze medal in archery.

“I loved it,” he said. “I had a ball. It was just real nice.”

“It’s a great experience every year. It’s really about the camaraderie and the togetherness. It’s more like a family reunion. Every time you go, you see the same guys, coming in from different states,” he said.

The Games are growing and are the largest annual wheelchair sports competition in the world. When Slaughter started going a few years ago, he was one of only a few rookies to the Games. A good percentage of the more than 500 athletes in Pittsburgh were newcomers. Along with coaches, volunteers and therapists, the experienced athletes take it upon themselves to teach and encourage athletes there for the first time or trying a sport for the first time.

“The medal is just a bonus to me. Whether you win or not, it’s about competing and being there and knowing you can do more. Even though you’re in a wheelchair, you know there’s not a limit to the things you can do,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter was a rookie when he skied at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic a few years ago. Before the summer Games in Richmond, Slaughter’s going to the 2012 Winter Sports Clinic from April 1-6 in Snowmass Village, Colo.

“I definitely try to make every one of the Games I can make,” Slaughter said.

Even with all five sports he played in Pittsburgh, the winter games and his new-found motivation in hand cycling, that still doesn’t encompass Slaughter’s abilities as an athlete.

In Richmond, he participates in bowling and is helping with the hopeful addition of a golf program. Slaughter knows how sport helps him and he wants as many disabled people as possible to experience the same excitement and benefits.

“I know with more training like that, we can all be better. Being an athlete builds your confidence. For me, I always want to be out, be active and just compete. I played sports in high school and still try to stay as active as possible. Plus, you stay in shape,” said Slaughter, who served in the Marines from 1980-83.

There was more to the trip to Pittsburgh, as the veterans toured Heinz Field, home of the NFL’s Steelers, and PNC Park, home of the MLB’s Pirates.

“All of the volunteers were outstanding. The bus drivers, the kids who were helping us every day, everyone was great,” he said.

More than victories and medals, though, reuniting with fellow veterans is all the motivation Slaughter needs to look forward to the next Games.

“Everyone there is family,” Slaughter said. “You can meet someone for the first time and it always seems like you’ve known them for a long time.”