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Richmond Roots

Reprinted from PN June 2012

History is on display as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games return to Richmond, where they began.

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Drawn from a 1940s novel of the same name, the classic saying “You can’t go home again” holds a variety of meanings. Some people believe it means you can’t go home because of the risk of looking like a failure. That is certainly not the case for this month’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

The 32nd version of the Games returns bigger and better than ever to where they all started in Richmond, Va. The inaugural Games in 1981 drew 74 athletes from 14 states to the River City. The event presented annually by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has seen an enormous increase since then.

Last year in Pittsburgh, the Games attracted roughly 600 veterans from across the country, Puerto Rico, and Great Britain to take part in 17 sports. A larger version of the Games, returning to Richmond, June 25–30, has local organizers thrilled.

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“We’re very excited to bring the Games back to Richmond—where it all began nearly 32 years ago,” says Charlie Hayden, sports director for the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Chapter PVA, and also one of the original participants in the 1981 Games. “The Games have grown tremendously since then, and we look forward to seeing that growth continue as we host the 2012 National Veterans Wheelchair Games.”

Touch History

It’s a bit ironic the National Veterans Wheelchair Games are making some history by returning to a city that has so much of it. Few cities offer visitors such an incredible look at U.S. history, especially the Civil War.

Magnificent architecture, monument-lined cobblestone streets, and world-class museums showcase more than 400 years of American history no textbook could come close to replicating. What era of history you want to explore and how you’d like to experience it are extensive.

The second successful English settlement is re-created just a short drive south of town at Henricus Historical Park. Enjoy a guided tour of accessible St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry spoke the immortal words, “Give me liberty or give me death!” You can also take things at your own pace with a leisurely roll down Monument Avenue.


A statue honoring George Washington is located on Richmond's 12-acre Capitol Square.

Richmond is a rich, vibrant city that has a deep respect for its history and a keen eye on its future. This entire issue of PN could easily be filled with things to do and see in the River City, but here are just a few highlights near Games hotels.

The American Civil War Center

The former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond is home to one of the finest Civil War museums in the nation.

Located on the historic James River, the American Civil War Center is the country’s first to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African-American perspectives. The signature exhibit, “In the Cause of Liberty,” explores the war’s causes, course, and legacies through the essential perspectives of it main participants. Artifact displays change regularly.

History literally comes to life at the center with costumed interpreters. They help visitors explore recruitment, training, camp life, and battle experiences of Civil War soldiers.

The  center sits on the grounds of the Tredegar Iron Works, once the industrial heart of the Confederacy. During the Civil War, the works produced more than 1,000 artillery pieces, railroad steam locomotives and iron plating for warships.

The American Civil War Center is wheelchair accessible with elevators (tredegar.org).

Canal Walk

Just outside the center is the beautiful Canal Walk along the James River.

The walk stretches 1.25 miles through downtown Richmond along the James River and the Kanawha and Haxall canals. Besides offering a beautiful outdoor path, it uses medallions, monuments, and exhibits to present even more of the city’s rich history. Native American trade routes, early Colonial settlements, tobacco warehouses, and an early African-American church are just some of the history represented along the walk.

Besides history, the walk presents a hands-on learning opportunity about canal locks. Just around the corner to the east of the Tidewater Connection Locks is a large-scale model of a canal with working locks. You can move boats through the interactive lock model by raising and lowering the water level in the locks.

The Canal Walk has multiple access points at nearly every block between Fifth and 17th streets in Richmond’s River District. Handicap-accessible entrances are at Fifth, 10th, 12th, 14th, and 16th streets (venturerichmond.com).

Virginia State Capitol

Only a few blocks from Games activities at the Greater Richmond Convention Center is the home of America’s oldest legislative assembly.

The Virginia State Capitol was designed by Thomas Jefferson and has become a wonderful architectural blend of new and old. The Capitol carries on themes originally presented by Jefferson but also caters to 21st-century expectations, including a new underground visitors center.

The building is situated on wonderful and historic Capitol Square. The 12-acre square is well landscaped with government buildings, including the Executive Manor and Bell Tower. It also features public monuments such as a large equestrian statue of George Washington atop a granite pedestal and the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

Daily one-hour guided tours showcase historical statuary and paintings, rare exhibit objects, and newly restored legislative chambers. Self-guided tours also are available.

A wheelchair-accessible ramp and door are located at the Ninth Street entrance of the building. All elevators in the General Assembly Building and Capitol are wheelchair accessible (virginiacapitol.gov).

Monument Avenue

Whether your drive it, walk part of it, or roll down some of it in a wheelchair, Monument Avenue is a gorgeous tree-lined boulevard with history on every block. It also provides a beautiful backdrop for the Games’ hand-cycling events.

Featuring statues of Civil War leaders, an ocean explorer, and a tennis legend, Monument Avenue is the only street in the United States named as a National Historic Landmark. The roughly five-mile-long avenue runs through the heart of Richmond’s historic Fan District and is also filled with homes, churches, some small businesses and a few restaurants.

The statues featured on the avenue include:

- Robert E. Lee, Confederate General

- J.E.B. Stuart, Confederate Major General

- Jefferson Davis, Confederate President

- Stonewall Jackson, Confederate Lt. General

- Matthew Fontaine Maury, oceanographer

- Arthur Ashe, tennis player

Monument Avenue is a wide, two-lane street with a generous median. It has sidewalks on both sides and curbcuts at each
corner (nps.gov/nr/travel/richmond/MonumentAveHD.html).

For more information on visiting Richmond, go to visitrichmondva.com. For more information on the 32nd National Wheelchair Veterans Games, visit pva.org.

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Richmond Roots

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