Ernest Byrd was all set for the archery competition, but for the time being, he was on his cellphone — on hold — trying to get a doctor’s signature so that he wouldn’t find himself homeless.
“I’ll bring home the gold for you,” Byrd joked when someone finally came on the line.
There were a lot of those types of distractions at the Valor Games Midwest — open to injured, ill and wounded veterans and active-duty service members — being held over three days this week at various locations in the city. Some competitors were testing unwilling bodies. Others were emerging from reclusive lives after devastating injuries. And then there was Byrd, on the phone with his local Veterans Affairs office, trying to get someone to pay attention.
“I’m going to have to go in in person,” said a frustrated Byrd, 57, an Army veteran from Hyde Park who suffers from osteoarthritis.
What all the participants — about 200 in all — seemed to share as they competed Wednesday at Armour Square Park in the shadow of U.S. Cellular Field, was a love of brotherhood and sisterhood.
“The camaraderie is unbelievable. It’s priceless,” said Byrd, competing in the over-46 archery contest. “That was the thing I learned in the army — those guys come from all walks of life, all parts of the country. It’s like you’ve known ‘em all your life.”
Others took part in events that included cycling, rowing, tennis and powerlifting.
Howard Wilson, 51, a retired U.S. Marine and a West Sider, has glaucoma and is blind. He too enjoys the camaraderie, but also the chance to win. Before he competed in the tandem cycling race Wednesday, he got to pick a sighted volunteer for his cycling partner.
“I have to get somebody who has my competitive spirit,” Wilson explained. “I’ll ask, ‘Who wants to come in first?’ ”
Wilson was satisfied as soon as he shook volunteer Gregg Herr’s hand.
“He’s got a good grip and he’s got a good size on him,” Wilson said.
Crystal Young-Terrell, 52, from Delaware, was in the Army until she was injured in Bosnia in an automobile crash in 2002. She suffered head trauma and now has “only one leg that works.”
Young-Terrell said her injuries made her reclusive. She said activities like the Valor Games have helped her “venture out.” And taking part in “hand cycling” has given her something else.
“I can’t run, I can’t play football like I want to — like I used to,” she said. “This gives me the opportunity to be free.”