GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A new tradition on the Coast is getting off to a successful start. Dozens of veterans competed in the first ever boccia ball tournament Saturday hosted by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
It’s a game that requires concentration. Players must be focused, determined and, of course, a bit competitive.
“We’re all military, so we absolutely love competition," said Cheryl Lewis, president of PVA Bayou Gulf States chapter.
“There’s a lot of trash talking going on," said John Arbino, national program manager of Paralyzed Veterans of America.
The rest doesn’t matter. These veterans play just as tough as any athlete. On these courts, age is just a number.
“I’ve been blessed to live a few months beyond a hundred years," said Taylor Howard, a World War II vet and former Buffalo Soldier.
Disabilities limited no one.
“I want to show people hey, I’m not as disabled as you think I am. I will show you I am just as good as you are," said Patrick Peterson, assistant sports director and treasurer of the PVA Bayou Gulf Coast chapter.
Peterson found himself paralyzed after a motorcycle accident snapped his spine.
“Once I woke up from my 58-day coma, realizing uh-oh I’m no longer going to be able to walk again, I had to find something that would give me that passion for life," he said.
He, like others, found that passion in sports. That was clear on Saturday, as veterans of different backgrounds competed in the finals of the boccia ball tournament.
The tournament is the first ever hosted by the PVA Bayou Gulf States chapter.
Boccia ball is just one of several adaptive sports PVA offers for disabled athletes and veterans, both on a national and local scale. The non-profit also offers basketball, softball, hunting, bass tournaments, track and field and a variety of other sports.
It's all to give veterans a reason to move.
“Your life, it may not be the same, but it’s not over, there’s plenty of things that we can do," Arbino said.
It also gives them reason for our nation’s heroes to continue pushing forward together.
“A frown comes in, a smile goes out, and that’s the best thing that you can ever feel, to see that, the camaraderie," Lewis said.
PVA relies on donations for their programs. To donate to the Bayou Gulf States chapter, mail donations to 15489 Dedeaux Rd., Gulfport, MS 39503. To find out more, visit the group’s website.