Appreciating The Atmosphere

Powerlifting, bowling highlight Saturday’s events

Powerlifting, bowling highlight Saturday’s events

After wrapping up the 2023 National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) powerlifting, or benchpress, event Saturday night, Christopher Dominick already knew one item he plans to — jokingly — bring to next year’s Games in New Orleans.

Some glue to keep his hands on the bar.

A 52-year-old Navy veteran and Charlotte, N.C., resident, Dominick had the final two of his three lifts disqualified and ended up with a silver medal during the powerlifting event inside the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Ore.

“My second lift, they said I bounced [the bar] off my chest, and then the third lift, they said I lifted my head up,” says Dominick, who served from 1989 to 1993 in underwater demolition and sustained a level T-11 spinal-cord injury (SCI) in 2002 from a disease.

Christopher Dominick earned a silver medal in powerlifting, or bench press, event at the 2023 National Veterans Wheelchair Games at the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Ore.
(Photo by John Groth).


Although disappointed, Dominick still loved the powerlifting event’s atmosphere. This year, it featured a darkened convention area and spotlights shining on the athletes, pump-up music in the background, an announcer, bleachers and chairs for people to cheer on the athletes and a video board so fans could see them better. He plans on getting plenty of reps in and making sure he lifts better and the correct way for next year’s Games, which are co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I love the camaraderie,” Dominick says. “My goal for next year is 250 (pounds).”

Count Anthony Martinez as another athlete who likes that camaraderie, too. After highlighting the 2019 NVWG in Louisville, Ky., with a 405-pound lift, he finally made a return this year. And he outdid that by even more.

An Army veteran and Lemoore, Calif., resident, Martinez cleared 430 pounds on his first attempt and then successfully lifted 465 pounds and tied a personal best for this style of lift on his second attempt before missing 475 pounds on his third and final one. He won a gold medal.

“Usually, I like it like quiet and calm and all that, but when you get the right kind of atmosphere, the energy level, it’s a big difference,” says Martinez, who served from 2005 to 2008 as a parachute rigger and is an above-the-right-knee amputee after a 2013 single-vehicle car accident in Lemoore, Calif. “A little more … kind of like a pressure, I mean everybody’s watching me — forcing me to do good.”

Anthony Martinez won a gold medal at the 2023 National Veterans Wheelchair Games at the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Ore.
(Photo by John Groth).

Besides powerlifting, athletes also competed in a handful of other sports on Saturday, including, 9-ball billiards, archery, boccia, the obstacle course known as motorized slalom, pickleball, disc golf, table tennis, swimming and, also, bowling.

Whenever he bowls a strike, 81-year-old Louis Deveaux has to do a little celebratory dance in his wheelchair.

During this year’s Games, those moves included a little shimmy and some fist pumps in the air after he bowled one in Saturday’s bowling event at KingPins in Beaverton, Ore.

“Because sometimes I don’t get them. Sometimes, I’m, you know, in the gutter,” says Deveaux, an Army veteran and PVA Florida Chapter member who’s competing in his third NVWG.

Deveaux served from 1960 to 1980 and injured his back during his first parachuting jump in what’s now called Fort Liberty (and then called Fort Bragg) in North Carolina. It hasn’t been the same since. Even after having back surgery, he still has L5-7 spinal-cord issues.

After attending the 2019 Games in Louisville and 2021 Games in New York City, he returned again this year — competing in boccia, 9-ball billiards and adaptive fitness.

“I wanted to get out of the house. I live by myself,” Deveaux says.

He just picked up bowling six months ago after some fellow PVA Florida Chapter members told him about the organization’s bowling events.

“I was like, “OK, I ain’t got nothing to do,’” Deveaux says.

But bowling, for him, helps make life a little more fun.

“The relaxation. I mean, you see, once you start bowling, you get comfortable. You’ll be happy if you make a strike — as long as you don’t gutter ball,” Deveaux says.

PVA Puerto Rico Chapter member Eva De Jesus Collazo got plenty of those awful gutter balls. But the 33-year-old San Juan, Puerto Rico, resident managed one strike — coming in the eighth frame of her third and final game.

De Jesus Collazo, who sustained a T12 SCI in a March 1, 2022, car accident in Puerto Rico, is still serving in the Air Force and started 12 years ago. She says she began as security forces and the last four years has worked with the office of recruitment and retention.

She started out the competition knowing very little about bowling and struggled to knock pins down. But she learned two key things— leaning more and moving her two outside fingers closer together alongside her two middle fingers in the holes. That helped her out late in her game.

“It kind of worked. I got better in the last game. Not that good, but you know,” De Jesus Collazo says.

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