Sports program offers a way for athletes to adapt - VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
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Sports program offers a way for athletes to adapt

Jataya Taylor competing in biathlon

When Jatáya Taylor, a natural athlete, experienced a series of U.S. Marine Corps training injuries that would not heal, she didn’t choose to give up - instead, she found a new way to adapt.

By Terri Rorke
Monday, January 6, 2020

If there’s one thing every warrior understands well, it is how to adapt. When Jatáya Taylor, a natural athlete, experienced a series of U.S. Marine Corps training injuries that would not heal, she didn’t choose to give up ­­– instead, she found a new way to adapt.

After leaving the military, Taylor was diagnosed with a rare connective tissue disorder. Her condition worsened over time and by 2013 she was using a wheelchair full-time.

Feeling displaced, Taylor soon discovered the Adaptive Sports Grant Program through the National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events Office (NVSP&SE). The VA-facilitated program works with countless community partners providing an array of adaptive sports opportunities that can serve as recreation therapy.

It wasn’t long before Taylor competed in her first national game where recruiters observed her athletic abilities at the 2014 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Philadelphia. A recruiter asked if she wanted to try competing in a biathlon (a winter sport combining cross-country skiing and rifling shooting). “When I asked what it was, he said it was a type of skiing that required a lot of hard work. It’s funny because that was actually part of what sold me on it,” Taylor said.

For Taylor, the adaptive sports program became a way to return to her athletic roots and enjoy the outdoors. It also “keeps my mental health strong,” she said.

Even after electing to amputate her left leg in 2017 to improve quality of life, there’s been no sign of Taylor slowing down. Year-round, you’ll find her either competing in national biathlons or basketball games —her two passions.

Taylor finds camaraderie while training with fellow service members and connects with other athletes who’ve undergone amputation. She keeps busy swimming and training between tournaments. The adaptive sports program has become such a fundamental part of Taylor’s life, she said she doesn’t know what she would do without it.

Fortunately for Veterans like Taylor, at the end of September, VA awarded $2,252,834 in grants to 14 Colorado organizations that provide adaptive sports programs. Twelve of these organizations lie within the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System’s (ECHCS) catchment area and directly impact the Veterans they serve.

“By collaborating with our community partners, our Recreation Therapy department has blossomed into new recreation opportunities to help prepare our Veterans for not only the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, but also the National Veterans Golden Age Games,” said ECHCS Recreation Therapy Supervisor, Adeline Velasquez. “We can also provide exposure to a variety of adaptive skiing in preparation for the National Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.”

VA awarded 126 grants nationally, totaling $14.8 million. It is projected these organizations will reach approximately 11,000 Veterans and service members from every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“We are honored to team-up with our community partners by providing adaptive sports opportunities for our Veterans,” said VA ECHCS Director Michael Kilmer. “Programs like these promote community reintegration and help empower Veterans to stretch beyond any and all perceived limitations.”

Not only do adaptive sports help Veterans like Taylor improve their independence and well-being, but it’s also a fulfilling way to adapt to the new life they’ve gained.

If you are a Veteran enrolled with ECHCS and would like to learn more about local adaptive sports opportunities, call Recreation Therapy at 720.723.3055. For more information about the awardees and the program visit www.va.gov/adaptivesports and @Sports4Vets on social media.

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