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Sports Clinic Improving Quality Of Life For Veterans With Disabilities

Military veterans kayak during the National Veterans Sports Clinic in San Diego.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Military veterans kayak during the National Veterans Sports Clinic in San Diego.

Military veterans from around the country are gathering in San Diego for a special sporting event this week.

The Fourth Annual National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic is a rehabilitation sporting event, sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The event is open to veterans injured in the past six years. The clinic will last five days, from September 18-23.

More than 100 injured veterans are attending the event, and they've had to overcome some serious challenges to get there. A few dozen are competing in Track and Field and Rowing events at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

This is where some of our nations elite athletes train year round.

Participants are surrounded by fellow Veterans who share common bonds through their service and injuries. Those injuries include orthopedic amputations, spinal cord injuries, burns and various neurological conditions.

Alan Babin is a 31-year old Army Medic from San Antonio. He was severely paralyzed from the waist down, after being hit by an AK-47 while giving aide to another soldier in Iraq.

"This event is important to me because it lets me know I can get back out there with other people, no matter what I've been through, and it's okay," said Babin.

Jim Thompson is a Marine veteran from Vermont who is partially paralyzed from the waist down. Like the other participants, he's never tried rowing before.

"I'm giving everything a shot. Oh, yeah!" said Thompson.

Other events at different venues around San Diego include cycling, kayaking and surfing. The VA San Diego Healthcare System has hosted the event since its start in 2008. Organizers say some participants may even go on to compete in the Para Olympics for disabled athletes.

Jose Laguna, a therapist with the VA who has been coaching injured vets for 19 years, says the real benefit is mental and physical therapy, and helping vets feel more accepted.

"Until we see changes for the positive, we have not seen therapy yet. So that's why we're here, when we start seeing those positive changes, then therapy occurs," said Laguna.