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Veterans Mentor Local Children At Wheelchair Games

Andrea Smardon
Veteran and mentor Jeff DeLeon talks with a Kids Day participant at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games continued Thursday in Salt Lake City with multiple events including air rifles, basketball, and wheelchair obstacle courses. But it was also Kids Day – a chance for veterans to mentor children with disabilities in competitive sports.

Kids in wheelchairs are going over ramps, spinning in circles, and going backwards through an obstacle course. It’s called slolem, and veteran Jeff DeLeon is coaching them on how it’s done.

“They come out here, and they get a chance to see us as athletes,” DeLeon says. “Somebody with a disability, they just want to be another person. You know, our mode of playing basketball may be using a chair instead of standing up, but we’re still playing basketball. To be able to get them out here and show them and do these things and be with them, for us, it’s a passion because they’re right there in our heart, and it’s our opportunity to give back.”

8-year-old Benjamin Kuculyn of Layton is clearly enjoying himself as he comes down the final ramp, bragging about how he beat one of the mentors by a second. But the significance of what these veterans do is not lost on him.

“I just think of the veterans as superheroes,” Kuculyn says. “Every time I hear the national anthem, it just helps me remember that there’s people out there who are in wars and suffering and sacrificing our country.”

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games continue through Saturday.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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