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Stories from Veteran Games 2013


The long-anticipated National Veterans Golden Age Games officially opened with ceremonies held on Thursday, May 30 at the Convention Center.  

But even before Opening Day, RSVP volunteers already were offering their service at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport as the veteran athletes began arriving for their exciting week in Buffalo to compete in the Games.  RSVP volunteer Rick Speth was among the volunteers at the airport, greeting the vets as they arrived. He wrote:  "The reception committee brought smiles to lots of faces as they exited the security area. I met one of the original Tuskeege Airmen along with many other WWII vets."

RSVP Advisory Council members Lisa Binsley, Scott Laughlin, Rose Marie Hall, and Susan Siegel and RSVP Director Pat Dowling signed on to score and act as “water-bearers” at the Croquet competition held at the athletic fields at Nichols School on Saturday, June 1.  We arrived at 7am for our training, and soon found out that croquet as played by the rules is much more complicated and strategic than the game that many of us had played in our backyards..  rather like a cross between billiards, golf, and backgammon, as players try to hit through the course as quickly as possible, with as few strokes, and while trying to thwart opponents along the way. 

Vets croquetFour regulation croquet lanes had been set up in the lawns surrounding Nichols, with a beautiful blue sky overhead.  Many of the veteran athletes had competed in croquet at several previous National Games, and were delighted at the conditions.  They reminisced and joked about one particular venue where the croquet event was staged in an overgrown field amidst tall weeds and deep ruts.  Looking out at the nicely rolled lawn, they agreed, “This is pure luxury!”

In the first round, a Vietnam veteran athlete from Texas clearly demonstrated his skill at competitive croquet, and easily won that round.  He confided that he had taken the Gold medal in the past, and was determined to do it again this time.  “This is the last time that Croquet will be offered as a Games event, and it sure would be nice to take home the Gold!” 

We also met veterans from Hawaii, Oklahoma, Indiana, and even Alaska.  When we introduced ourselves as Buffalo natives, we received a round of applause for coming out, and for the great experience that the athletes were enjoying in Buffalo. 

At lunchtime, the volunteers and athletes were treated to a sumptuous lunch with hotdogs, “lazy pierogi”, vegetables, fruits and homemade cookies, courtesy of Region 9 UAW Veterans Committee.  And standing behind the table serving was RSVP volunteer Gayle Grabowski! 

... what an inspirational five days I’ve had volunteering at the “Games”. ...met veterans from all across the country, from Hawaii to Massachusetts and everywhere in between. I met both young vets (55) to old vets (90) and all had such “can do” attitudes. The first two days I spent scoring for the shuffle board tournament. I was very interesting to see how competitive the contestants were. They take the game very seriously! I and the other volunteers at court 15 were able to help with several medal matches which were most enjoyable. I had the opportunity to talk with the vets about their home and where they served which provided a lot of insight into their condition and what they went through. They all said they had not realized what a nice place Buffalo was! Many just loved the Naval Park and Canalside. I think most of them found some way to get to Niagara Falls over their stay.
The next two days I spent at the horseshoe event...the most inspirational for me. Many of these participants were disabled. The disabilities ran from impaired vision to major ambulatory situations. Unfortunately for all, participants and volunteers alike, the weather was very “raw” both days! We were lucky the rain stopped but the wind came in off the lake and it was extremely cold. The people from the warmer location were very surprised to say the least. I was paired up with a couple vols from the shuffleboard games and we worked well as a team. We were lucky again to score and help with several rounds of medal play. Just like the first days these folks were very competitive! We saw many ringers. I think the special day for me and the other volunteers was day two of the tournament. We were assigned the visually impaired pit. After several preliminary rounds of heated competition we got to the Gold Medal round. These folks were the oldest in this category. I believe that they were near or over ninety. They couldn’t have been more respectful to each other and obviously enjoying both the competition and the comradery. The match was pretty close but in the end Mr. Ribierio won the gold. I noticed that the fellow assisting him with his walker looked familiar. He should have! He had won the gold for his age group the preceding day. He was Mr. Ribierio’s son! Just think the father and son won gold medals together in the Buffalo games! It was particularly poignant to hear how the father and son would describe how they would play at home all the years the son was growing up and the bond they had with each other growing form that simple game!golf at games
The last day I was assigned to the table tennis tournament. What a show! These folks were good! Even the vets in wheelchairs or walkers were serious players. We were kept busy all day with matches scoring up to 11 points. Our table was again fortunate enough to have several medal rounds assigned to it. Some of the players have been competing with each other at the last five or six annual games. Even in the very competitive atmosphere they called each other by their first name and hugged when the match was over. I heard one fellow extort “ see you next year buddy”. Overall it was a very gratifying experience to help these people that for the most part have given a piece of themselves to insure our freedoms and way of life. It brings a lump to my throat when I think of how they take it in stride and move on to tomorrow with no self pity and with pride in what they have accomplished up to this point and how they look forward to what lies ahead. We all can be proud of these brave men and women. Thanks for the opportunity to serve-Best Regards, Alan Greenley

Pat Matsui and Kevin Proulx share these excerpts:  From golfing to croquet to table tennis, we met a wide array of people attending these Veteran's Games.  From the proud participants to the enthusiastic supporters, the games were a huge success.  We heard several compliments for the organizing committee; for making the whole event run smoothly.  We met athletes from Alaska, Hawaii and California, to warriors from Connecticut, Pennsylvania to Georgia and Texas.  The common thread was doing their best; and enjoying the fellowship.   
We thoroughly enjoyed being scorers and helpers at these games.  The athletes were super! 
A couple of people were amazed at the quality of architecture in the downtown area and around Nichols School/Delaware Park/Buffalo Zoo area.

Judith Ricca – Registration table writes:  I had a great time!!   Working the final table in registration I was able to meet almost all of the participants and every one was courteous and of good humor and many were quite entertaining!  They took great delight in calling me “Little Lady” and several offered a ride on a wheelchair if I would give them a tour of Buffalo!  They spoke of Buffalo and one Marine whispered that he had tears in his eyes at the warmth of the airport reception.  These men and women carried themselves proudly, showing their military insignia and the hats, and shirts designed to represent their home areas.   For the first time ever in my experience, the participants thanked the volunteers.  Talk about tears in one’s eyes! I would work with this group anytime!

"I had a wonderful time volunteering for the Veterans Golden Age Games.  Wonderful athletes and wonderful volunteers." Audrey Seidel - Airport golf event at gamesAssistance, Opening ceremonies, Table Tennis

Kathy Blair shares photos of the events at http://www.flickr.com/photos/veteransaffairs/sets/and on "Wednesday, May 29, I helped the Veterans get their luggage, took them to the volunteer snack area, then to the shuttle for the individual hotels schepping their luggage.   Mr. L. was in a wheelchair and we couldn't find his luggage so I took him to different areas to find someone from the airport to help us find his luggage.  Finally we had to put in a lost bag claim.  Mr. L. was pretty calm through the whole thing and he offered suggestions on finding his bag.  Then on Thursday, I was working near the registration area for the participants.  I saw Mr. L. and asked if he got his luggage yet... I turned around and someone was looking for Mr. L- I was very happy and relieved that he got his luggage.  
On June 1, I worked at the convention center as a greeter.  Again I saw Mr. Larkin and I assisted him to the elevators to go upstairs for shuffleboard.  I told him,"I bet you didn't think we would see each other this much." 

If you have a story of the 2013 Games you'd like to share, please email to carrie.smith@erie.gov