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Carolina hosts Valor Games for military athletes with disabilities

Nearly 125 veterans and active-duty service members with disabilities participated in the event, which empowers individuals with disabilities by promoting physical, mental and emotional health

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The Valor Games takes place at the Dean Smith Center May 22, 2018. Valor Games Southeast invites Veterans and members of the Armed Forces with disabilities from around the country to Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill for 3 days of spirited competition in 11 sports. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The Valor Games, an introductory Paralympic sports competition for veterans and active-duty service members with disabilities, came to Carolina on Tuesday for a day of spirited competition in the Dean Smith Center.

Nearly 125 athletes from around the country are competing in this year’s games, which includes archery, wheelchair basketball, powerlifting and more. The three-day event is being held across the Triangle with Duke University and Lake Crabtree County Park in Raleigh also hosting portions of the competition.

Three events — boccia, sitting volleyball and air rifle — took place at the Dean Dome on May 22.

Organized by Bridge II Sports and supported by community partners including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Valor Games empowers individuals with disabilities by promoting physical, mental and emotional health.

Founder and executive director of Bridge II Sports Ashley Thomas said local university facilities make it possible for veterans to compete in sports they never thought they would try, helping them to build confidence and community.

“There’s healing that happens when they get an opportunity to do something they felt was never going to be possible again,” she said. “In North Carolina, we have a huge veteran population. I think with all of our sponsors, including UNC-Chapel Hill, there is a genuine desire to take care of those who have served us.”

For Carolina Athletics intern Jonathan Hough, seeing the veteran athletes compete was an extraordinary moment.

“It means a lot to me to be part of this,” Hough said. “It really puts life in perspective. No matter what these athletes are going through or what they’re feeling, they’re still here to compete and have a great time.”

The event was supported by dozens of volunteers, including self-proclaimed Carolina superfan Karen Stallings.

“Some of our family members are not Carolina fans, but we don’t claim them,” Stallings joked. “It is a great honor to be here in the Dean Dome. I love meeting all the athletes. They come here for the community, and they have made friends forever.”

As for the athletes — many of them Carolina fans — the 2018 Valor Games will be an event to remember.

“It’s a great experience,” said veteran Johnny Holland, who competed in boccia and air rifle. “Words can’t express the feeling.”