Just three months after returning from the Vietnam War, Harlan "Hank" Ebert of Brainerd was involved in a motorcycle accident that put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Michael Hancock, a Vietnam veteran from Crosby, had to have his right leg amputated because of the Agent Orange he was exposed to in Vietnam.
Both should be an inspiration to us all. Despite their disabilities, they have gone on to become successful businessmen, and successful wheelchair athletes.
Ebert, 62, secured his ninth gold medal in archery with a compound bow while competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games July 13-18 at Spokane, Wash.
Hank Ebert of Brainerd shot in the air gun competition in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Ebert won the event.
Department of Veterans Affairs
After striking gold in his first Games in 1999, Ebert skipped the Games in 2000 and finished second in 2001. Since then he has won eight straight archery gold medals.
"It takes lots of practice," Ebert said. "I shoot almost 100 arrows a day. The runner-up competes with one arm and shoots with a mouth release. He's probably a better shooter than I am considering he has only one arm. I beat him by like 40 points."
Ebert, a 33-year member of the Nisswa Guides League, also won gold in the category for air guns-para with no assistance and placed third in discus, shot put and javelin. He said he practices shooting air guns but doesn't get in much practice for field events.
"I threw the discus in the yard a little bit," Ebert said. "I'm in the Masters Division (Class III), for 40 years old and above. I'm competing against a lot of younger kids. It's just something to do, go out on the field. I just hang out and do the best I can. I don't have enough time to practice everything."
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are the world's largest annual wheelchair sports event, attracting more than 500 athletes. It's a multi-event sports and rehabilitation program for military service veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations and certain neurological disorders.
Athletes compete in divisions for Masters (over 40), Novice (first-time competitors) and Open (all others or those who chose to compete in this category). They also compete within classes according to the level of their physical ability, with three quadriplegic-level classes (IA, IB and IC), and four paraplegic-level or amputee classes (II, III, IV, and V).
The event is presented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. They're funded with the help of corporations and service organizations. They are a showcase for sports rehabilitative programs, and the athletic abilities and achievements of our nation's disabled veterans.
The Games have enabled Ebert to travel the country. He plans to be in Denver for the 2010 Games.
Michael Hancock of Crosby competed in the motorized slalom event in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Hancock placed third in the event.Department of Veterans Affairs
"You have no idea what other cities are like unless you go for a week," said Ebert, who is sponsored by Jim Head Racing and Beimert Archery. "I wish I had started going sooner. I heard about it a few times before I went, but I never paid any attention to it. Finally, I did my first one in San Antonio (in 1999) and I was like 'Wow. Why didn't I do this before?
"You get to meet new people. You make a lot of new friends and you look forward to seeing them every year."
Hancock, owner of the original Papa John's Pizza in Crosby, placed third in motorized slalom (with hand controls) and third in stick bowling.
"I'm used to ramp bowling," said Hancock, who turned 59 July 19. "They reclassified me this year and put me in stick bowling. It was the first year I had ever done that. Stick bowling is like shuffleboard. You push the ball down the alley (with a paddle)."
Hancock, who competes as a Class V in the Masters division, also competed in power chair 200 (with hand controls) and motorized wheelchair rally.
"There are just too many people in my class," said Hancock, who is sponsored by the American Legion in Ironton and the Cuyuna Range Lions Club. "In motorized rally I came in 14th out of the group. In motorized power 200 I came in fifth out of five.
"In power 200 I would have been better if I had a faster chair. That's why I'm trying to get one this fall for next year."
Hancock plans to compete in his fifth Games in 2010.
"This year I'm going to train for bowling because stick bowling was different for everybody," he said. "I have to start practicing with a stick."
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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