In a ceremony on the steps of the VA Central California Health Care System Fresno hospital, around two dozen veterans were recognized Monday not only for their service, but for their competitive performances in national adaptive sporting events.
The special ceremony honored athletes who took part in competitions such as the National Veterans Golden Age Games, National Veterans Wheelchair Games and Valor Games Far West. All together, those groups make up “Team Fresno,” which has been victorious.
“It’s a great place to be a part of and a blessing as well,” said Tyler Hergenrader, outreach coordinator for Break the Barriers, which teamed up with the VA hospital to make sure veterans focused on more than just their pain.
Five years ago, Hergenrader said, the 30-year-old nonprofit organization did research on veterans from surrounding counties and found the suicide rates were high. The organization decided to allow veterans into its Fresno facility and begin training them for competition.
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Micheal Jorgensen, 50, decided to take part in adaptive sports four years ago.
Jorgensen said before starting his competitive career, he was on high-dose narcotic pain killers. After encouragement to join the traveling team, he joined and then couldn’t back away.
“From that point on, I kept going every day,” Jorgensen said. “Today I am completely off pain (medication) and just enjoying life to the fullest.”
During the ceremony, Jorgenson received a large picture frame with an image of him during a 60-mile bicycle race he took part in.
“It was an amazing race,” Jorgensen said. He completed the race in about six hours and 29 minutes, he said.
One by one, each group received their plaques of recognition. Some wore medals won after sport competitions, but all team players wore matching shirts that corresponded to their subgroup.
Hagenrader said he is proud to reach out to veterans on behalf of his organization, something he believes gives those who served greater purpose.
“It doesn’t matter what limitations you have,” Hagenrader said. “You can get out there and find purpose.”