Buffalo Niagara was worthy of a gold medal for hospitality for the job it did hosting the just-concluded 27th National Veterans Golden Age Games, numerous participants said Tuesday as they completed five days of competition.
“It’s been fabulous here. I’ve had good meals, the people are friendly, and it has been easy for me to roll around,” said Navy veteran John McCarthy, 71, who uses a wheelchair.
McCarthy, who was wheeling his way along Franklin Street to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to make arrangements for a last-minute visit to Niagara Falls, said the Games also provided him with a chance to win athletic competitions for the first time in his life.
“I won gold medals for the freestyle swim and bowling in my classification,” said McCarthy, a resident of Estes Park, Colo.
He was one of 31 members of the Rocky Mountain Dream Team that had traveled here to compete.
Danny Lawson, a former Marine on the team from Fresno, Calif., said he was amazed at how local residents opened their hearts to veterans.
“I was really impressed with the people. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and they really seem to appreciate veterans here,” said Lawson, 63, who won silver medals for discus throwing and swimming.
The more than 750 veterans from across the country who participated, plus many more of their spouses and traveling companions, enriched the local economy by about $2.2 million, according to officials.
But that was not the purpose of the Games, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
As veterans carried on fierce games of table tennis inside the convention center Tuesday morning, just hours before medals were to be presented, Evangeline Conley, spokeswoman for the VA Western New York Healthcare System, said the Games achieved their main goal – promoting active lifestyles.
“This is not just about competition, but a healthy lifestyle and taking that home. The real benefit is keeping a fitness routine,” Conley said.
Veterans who competed had to be at least 55 years old and receive services from a VA medical facility.
Dottie Wright, who accompanied her husband, Gary, from California, said she was moved by the dedication of the older veterans.
“Just to see all these elderly people come here and compete and have a good time is inspiring,” she said. “The people of Buffalo and have been wonderful with the way they have catered to us.”
Gary Wright, an Air Force veteran, said it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a medal winner.
“My medals are the relationships I’ve started here with other veterans,” Wright said, pressing a hand against his heart.