“I love this game:” Wheelchair lacrosse becomes life-saving sport for veterans

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MILWAUKEE -- You could be a veteran who served our country and now find yourself facing physical and emotional challenges. Maybe you're in that situation regardless of your journey. If so, there's a sport out there that might be a life-changer.Wheelchair lacrosse

"I really didn't know what lacrosse was. I thought it had to do with the city lacrosse; some city planning," said Dr. Kenneth Lee, wheelchair lacrosse team founder.

When Dr. Kenneth Lee went to Las Vegas for a clinic several years ago, he found out that lacrosse, in this case wheelchair lacrosse, was a sport. 

He was intrigued. So he tried it.wheelchair lacrosse

"I really stunk at it. I mean I was pathetic," said Dr. Lee.

Undaunted, Dr. Lee, who was severely injured while serving our country in Iraq in 2004, and who has made giving back to disabled veterans a mission, formed a team with the help of Marquette University lacrosse men's coach Joe Amplo and his young men.

Dr. Kenneth Lee

Dr. Kenneth Lee

Within two weeks, Lee, who as a rehab physician specializes in spinal cord injuries, had formed a wheelchair team.

"Guys who had a traumatic injury, where they think their life is over, yet turned them around; do the rehab and get them into an elite competitive arena. You can't get better than that," said Lee. 

Dr. Lee believes that for veterans, adaptive sports such as wheelchair lacrosse can save lives. 

"Many have gone down to the wrong pathway where there's drug abuses, violence. As soon as we bring them into adaptive sports and give them an ultimatum, 'We will kick you out if you go back to that life' -- almost 100% of them turned around," said Lee. 

"If someone said, 'Hey I can cure you of your paralysis right now, I would have to think about it first," said James Veltri, Chicago area. 

The words of James Veltri would never have come out of his month before he discovered adaptive sports such as wheelchair lacrosse. 

Veltri, who was left partially paralyzed when he was shot while trying to break up a fight after he served in the Navy, came out of a deep depression. Now, he's inspiring others and has a message for anyone facing challenges of any kind. wheelchair lacrosse

"Don't focus on what you can't do, focus on what you can do. What happened happened; you can't change that," said Veltri. 

"I just started playing and its really good. It's really good and I just got popped in the chest," said Terrence Green, disabled veteran. 

Terrence Green is an Army veteran who was driving a car when he was hit by a semi truck 13 years ago. 

"I love this game I mean it makes me feel young again," said Green. 

Not all of the wheelchair lacrosse players are veterans.wheelchair lacrosse

Mareike Miller had her basketball career in Germany cut short by several severe knee injuries. After coming to the U.S., she played on the UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball teams that won three straight national championships.

Mareike Miller

Mareike Miller

"All the people, the life stories and the experiences that i got to know through adaptive sports are what keep me going," said Mareike Miller, Wisconsin Adaptive Sports Association.

Those stories are sweet music to the ears of Dr. Lee. Who, for the sake of those he serves, is glad that he found out that lacrosse is more than just a city!

"Oh, I'd never trade this. I love the veterans and love the other athletes as well," said Lee.

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