Scott Winkler looks like a linebacker, his athletic build not diminished by the fact that he is paralyzed from the waist down and is in a wheelchair from an injury he suffered in the Iraq war.
He is one of 54 athletes who have been competing in field events Friday and Saturday at the 19th annual Desert Challenge Games in the East Valley. Events continue at 8:30 a.m. Sunday with archery at Papago Park Archery Range. The three-day competition is hosted by Mesa and Arizona Disabled Sports, a nonprofit organization.
Saturday, Winkler was competing in shot put. He said he is the first Iraq war veteran to join the U.S. Paralympics Team and placed fifth in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
“Just to be on a U.S. team and wear a uniform again was a great honor,” Winkler said.
He is in his second year of competing. Not only is he one of the top athletes, Winkler also coaches disabled children in Georgia.
For the shot put, a high swivel chair is anchored to the ground. The neon orange straps create a maze to ensure the chair is stable enough to support Winkler’s weight.
An official held Matt Brown’s prosthetic leg in the shot-put arena and showed how his prosthetic foot went above the metal barrier and caused him to go out of bounds.
The official rotated the leg and showed Brown how he could avoid receiving fouls the next time. Brown, who competed in the Beijing games and placed fourth in discus and eighth in shot put, listened attentively.
“Every athlete is different. You spend a lot of time trying to see what works for you,” Brown said.
Brown competed in shot put for 20 years before he lost his leg in an explosion working on a natural gas line in Texas.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Brown said.
This is his third year competing with a prosthetic Flex Foot, which is a specialized prosthetic designed for running, and he is happy with its performance.
The prosthetic cost about $20,000, but was paid for by insurance.
His next competition will be in Oklahoma as he prepares for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Last year, the event drew 75 participants because athletes were training for the Beijing games, said Mesa Parks and Recreation program manager Susan Rossi.
Kirk Bauer, the executive director of Disabled Sports USA and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, has been involved with disabled sports for more than 40 years. He said these events are important for the opportunity to put athletes on the radar for the future Paralympic Games.
“Children born with disabilities don’t feel any problem, they feel they can be great,” Bauer said. “I think if you become disabled it’s harder.”