Last year, Decatur resident Laura Jeanne went to Tampa, Fla. to compete as a novice in the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Last week, the competition was in Philadelphia.
Jeanne medaled in all five events she entered – including archery.
“Archery was awesome,” Jeanne said. “I was the only one in my class, but I got a score of 528, and a perfect score is 720. Last year, I only got a 325. So, I’m proud of that improvement.”
Jeanne, a former Army helicopter pilot and Texas State Guard member who fought in Desert Storm, was confined to a wheelchair in 2009 after a horse training accident paralyzed her from the waist down.
But it hasn’t slowed her down.
In addition to archery, Jeanne got gold medals in bowling, carding a 309 over three games, and air pistol – an event offered for the first time at the 34th Games.
“That was the best I’ve ever bowled in my life,” Jeanne said.
She also took silver in air rifle and javelin.
Archery is Jeanne’s favorite event. She even has a range set up on her property so that she can shoot her bow and arrow at home.
“This time of year I get up at dawn to go train,” she said. “It’s too hot in the afternoons.”
Jeane’s pistol shooting also improved at this year’s games. It was an event she had never entered before.
“I almost dropped out of it because I was doing horrible in training when we left, and this was the first year they were offering it, and none of us knew anything about it,” Jeanne said.
Her coach told her to try anyway, and had her practice on air rifle targets, which are smaller than air pistol targets. That ended up working to Jeanne’s advantage when she won the gold medal in that event.
“Last year I didn’t have any competition because I was a novice. This year I had competition, so I’m prouder of the medals,” Jeanne said.
Her coach and recreational therapist, Donna Geron, is also glowing from the wins.
“For her to do this well this year, I’m real proud of her,” Geron said.
Geron, who coaches Jeanne in air rifle, air pistol and bowling, said they started training at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth two months before the games.
“They’ve been really accommodating over there to let us use their facilities to train,” Geron said.
Jeanne doesn’t start training for the 35th games until next May, but she’ll stay busy practicing bowling and perfecting her other skills on her own.
She’s also preparing for the Valor Games this October in San Antonio – an event held four times a year and open for any veteran or public service employee with a disability.
“They let in active duty, veterans, public service officials, anyone like that who suffers from an injury,” Jeanne said. “And it doesn’t have to be physical. It could be PTSD, amputees, anything like that. It’s not just wheelchair games.”
The Veterans Wheelchair Games is put on annually by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America. The Valor Games are run by the VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Jeanne said she would eventually like to enter archery competitions that aren’t just restricted to wheelchair athletes.
“I want to find stuff that’s outside the VA, something around here, to keep me busy,” Jeanne said.
Jeanne uses the donation money in a VA fund in order to attend the Wheelchair Games. Next year, they will be held in Dallas, so she doesn’t expect costs to be too high – she only has to pay for a hotel.
She said she anticipates each new Wheelchair Games like she anticipates Christmas – excitement that the day will come, then relief when it’s over, especially when the event is held in a big city like Philadelphia.
“You have to wait a whole year for something so big that you’re so excited for, but at the end, you wouldn’t want it more than once a year, because it’s such a big event,” Jeanne said. “I like it here – it’s quiet. I don’t know how people live in the city.”