His name is Martin Lopez and his is an inspiring story of courage and determination.
A lifelong athlete, Lopez had a debilitating stroke nearly costing the Vietnam-era Air Force veteran his life, leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Depression soon followed, and for Lopez, the will to live slipped further away with each passing day.
That may have been the end of the story for the former Los Angeles Dodgers ballplayer. Instead, a new chapter in his life was about to be written. Lopez was challenged by VA medical center staff to not give up on his passion for sports. Therapists encouraged him, with careful and patient prodding, and eventually Lopez agreed to try to participate in an adaptive sports activity specifically designed for wheelchair patients. VA’s persistence paid off, not only for the therapists but more importantly, for Lopez.
This week, with his wife by his side, Martin Lopez, a part of the 1964 Los Angeles Dodgers system, will again compete in a variety of sporting activities. Still in a wheelchair, his will to compete is stronger than the challenges and difficulties of paralysis and disability. He is one of nearly 700 athletes from across America participating in the National Veterans Golden Age Games, the largest sporting and athletic competition in the world for military veterans age 55 and older. This year’s Games are hosted by the Birmingham, Alabama VA Medical Center and sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Canteen Service and Help Hospitalized Veterans.
Now living in Colchester, Connecticut, Lopez and his wife traveled to Birmingham, Alabama – but not in the pursuit of medals or glory. His reward is the thrill of competition, something which Lopez is strongly feeling once again.
His story is common among our nation’s disabled veterans, where disability and physical challenges are a daily occurrence. But this week, a week these veterans look forward to all year long, the only challenge on these athletes’ minds is participating in the sports they love. Whether it’s cycling, croquet, swimming or another of the 14 activities available at the Games, they relish the competition and completing the race. For many of them, training for participation in the Golden Age Games is just the beginning to a healthier and more fulfilling life.