LEAVENWORTH — Sara Combs, or "coach," as her veteran athletes refer to her, is making a positive impact in the lives of veterans throughout the community.

Combs, a disabled veteran herself, is the coordinator/coach for the paralyzed veterans team in Leavenworth. In 2019, the team competed for the first time at the national level.

While Leavenworth had a team named the Challengers several years ago, the team disbanded, and veterans were left to support themselves in competition or join the St. Louis team.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is the world’s largest annual wheelchair sports event solely for military veterans. Launched in 1981 by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wheelchair Games began with seven events and 77 athletes.

The Paralyzed Veterans of America joined the VA in 1985 to help expand the event’s mission and reach. The Wheelchair Games have flourished as more VA therapists turn to adaptive sports to help veterans become more active in their lives and communities — and, in some cases, reach higher levels of national and international competition. Over the years, thousands of veterans with disabilities have gained the skills, confidence and experience to take on challenges in the spirit of opportunity rather than limitation.

The goal of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is to have veterans with disabilities feel empowered to apply what they learn at the Wheelchair Games to their daily lives. The experience also helps them meet therapist goals such as managing self-care while traveling, navigating new environments and building self-confidence.

The Wheelchair Games is open to all U.S. veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, multiple sclerosis or other central neurological condition who require a wheelchair for athletic competition. Every year, hundreds of American heroes from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the post-9/11 era compete in this celebration of courage and camaraderie. Physical disabilities must impact mobility and be both permanent and measurable. All veterans registering for the Wheelchair Games must be eligible to receive care at a VA medical facility.

Director and CEO of VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Rudy Klopfer said, “Our entire community is a better place because of the tireless and selfless sacrifices made by Sara Combs. She demonstrates the values, the dedication, the commitment and the compassion to inspire not only our veteran athletes, but our entire organization.”