Four members of Hemet’s Warrior Veterans Adaptive Sports Club traveled to New York City to compete in this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games and returned with medals, awards and a renewed and recharged look at life. Teammates William Hendrickson (Wheelchair Willie), Al Marconi, Jim Quenzler and Johnny Sandoval are all members of the club that is part of the Cloverlane Foundation, which has been providing and supporting programs to assist underserved families and U.S. military veterans for almost 30 years.
In 2018, Cloverlane’s Chairman and founder Gerald Chase formed Veterans Mobility Projects to assist and support veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and/or difficulties with mobility. The nonprofit’s purpose is to give back to those that have sacrificed so much, by providing a way for veterans to regain some of the freedom they have lost.
The following year, Veterans Mobility Projects created an athletic program specifically for injured veterans. The goal of the Warrior Veterans Adaptive Sports Club is to give injured veterans a chance to participate in adaptive athletics and competitive sports.
The 40th annual Wheelchair Games were held in New York City Aug. 7-14. The athletic competition is open to all U.S. veterans with injuries that require the use of a wheelchair. To adhere to COVID-19 protocols, athletes were divided into two groups, each competing over a four-day period.
Hendrickson, who competed in group one, earned four gold medals, three silver medals and the Group One Spirit of the Games Award, which is given to the athlete who best represents athletic excellence, sportsmanship and good character.
“I’ve been competing at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games for 15 years,” Hendrickson, 55, said. “I started in 2006 and have been going ever since. The challenge is raising the funds each year to attend.”
The San Jacinto Valley resident is a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1984-1986. Marcus, his service dog for the past six years, joined him at the games.
Competing twice a day Hendrickson said his favorite sport is the slalom (an obstacle course) and road rally, which is akin to a trivia/poker run. His gold medal performances were in shot put, discus throw, disc golf and javelin; silver medals were awarded to him for road rally, soccer and slalom.
“The highlight for me was when I was chosen for Spirit of the Games. It’s the highest honor an athlete can receive at the games,” Hendrickson said. “I practice every week for events, and I plan to keep competing until I die. It’s what keeps me alive.”
Al Marconi also competed in group one, winning a bronze medal in power soccer and a gold medal in 9-ball. Jim Quenzler, also a group one participant did an outstanding job at the games as well, taking home silver medals in 9-ball, road rally and bocce ball. Hendrickson said there were several team sports besides soccer, and he played against some of his teammates who were assigned to other teams.
Sandoval, a Hemet resident since 1984, was appointed captain by his fellow sports club teammates. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1984-1990 aboard the USS Cayuga. He has been competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games since 2002. He was assigned to group two and won four medals – a gold in 9-ball, silver medals in softball and table tennis and a bronze in basketball. He said this year’s highlight was being able to participate in the games due to them being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Every day pushing my wheelchair prepares me for the games,” Sandoval, 54, said. “I plan to participate next year. The games are held in a different city every year and next year they will be in Tempe, Arizona. I also participate in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.”
Other Cloverlane Foundation programs include Maneuvering Veterans Forward, formed in 2018, which focuses on providing direction and discipline to veterans who need assistance with navigating their return to a healthy civilian life, primarily in Southern California.
Aside from its many veteran-related programs and projects led by Korean War Army veteran Chase, Cloverlane Foundation also supports children and animal causes. Leg Up provides educational opportunities for underprivileged students to reduce the risk of them being left behind. The program grants post-high school scholarships to attend accredited trade schools and college and supports primary and secondary public schools by providing educational materials and programs that have been eliminated from school budgets such as field trips and fine arts classes.
The Foundation provides a haven for lost, abandoned and injured domestic and wild animals and funds veterinary care for medical treatment and spay/neuter services. It also supports other organizations that care for wild and domestic animals and funds other charities that work to provide for those in need.
For the past two years the nonprofit has partnered with Valley Community Pantry, which provides much needed nourishment and assistance to families, seniors and veterans in the San Jacinto Valley. Most recently, members of the Cloverlane Foundation participated in the Soboba Lip Sync Contest supporting the Pantry and its Executive Director Jim Lineberger.
“It was an awesome experience,” Sandoval said.