Instead of seeing fireworks, Hank Ebert saw gold during the Fourth of July week -- and a lot of it.
Ebert, of rural Brainerd, who is a paraplegic, won five gold medals at the Paralyzed Veterans Wheelchair Games July 4-9 in San Antonio.
Only allowed to enter a maximum of five events, Ebert made a clean sweep by winning the novice divisions in discus, shot put, javelin, air rifle and archery contests.
"There was a lot of stress in all of them," said Ebert, a 53-year-old who served in Vietnam and was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. "But I felt the most confident in the air rifle competition. I've done a lot of shooting and I just felt comfortable."
The air rifle is a pellet rifle with no telescopic sights and shoots a projectile about 750 feet per second. The competitors shot from 10 meters with a .177 caliber gun, no .22-caliber rifles were allowed.
"I'm a paralyzed veteran and friends with the guys in Paralyzed Veterans of America (in the Twin Cities). They've been after me to do this and I thought I owed it to the club to do it. I really enjoyed the camaraderie and the competition. And the town of San Antonio was great; they made everybody feel welcome." Hank Ebert, rural Brainerd
That event was one of the largest attractions at the games with several hundred entrants in the novice division alone, Ebert said. The other two divisions were masters for those over 40 years old and open, which would be considered the best competition. Only the winner of the open beat Ebert in the entire competition.
Ebert overcame a crooked sight on his bow and very little practice time to win the archery competition. "It was luck," he said. "I was the best of the worst."
And in the field events, it was practice, practice and more practice which was the key to his success.
"In the field events, I practiced more than anybody else," Ebert said. "I had a good coach. Dennis Johnson, who is a recently retired game warden, helped me a lot as my weight trainer."
Ebert said he threw shot and the discus in high school and received help from Jon Stolski, who assists the Brainerd High School track and field team, and Dustin Moilanen, who was a member of the Warriors team last year. Craig Hougan, the Bemidji State track and field coach, was instrumental in helping Ebert in the javelin.
Brainerd Medical Supply was the main sponsor for Ebert, allowing him to obtain the necessary equipment for the games. Also, Colt Jenkins assisted Ebert in many aspects of his training.
Other events at the games included wheelchair basketball, quadriplegic rugby, racing, swimming, bowling, billiards, weightlifting, among others. The only other event Ebert wished to take part in was weightlifting, but he had already declared in the limit of five events. One weightlifting competitor finished with a bench press of 450 pounds.
This was the first time Ebert took part in the games after being convinced by friends he could have a good time and be successful.
"I'm a paralyzed veteran and friends with the guys in Paralyzed Veterans of America (in the Twin Cities)," said Ebert, who lives on North Long Lake and is a Minneapolis Southwest high school graduate. "They've been after me to do this and I thought I owed it to the club to do it.
"I really enjoyed the camaraderie and the competition. And the town of San Antonio was great; they made everybody feel welcome."
Paralyzed veterans came from all over, including Hawaii and even England. Fifteen members from the Minnesota chapter, with Ebert being the only one from central Minnesota, attended the games.
Ebert's team made a haul winning 44 total medals. One of his teammates, Oliver Skov, a quadriplegic, rolled his first ever competitive 300 in the bowling competition.
But it was Ebert who was the star of the show. It may have been his first attempt at the games, but with five gold medals to defend, it probably won't be his last.
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