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Camp for Disabled Veterans Merges Athletics, Education
The UA's first "Guide to Personal Success: Ultimate Athletics Experience" camp allowed disabled veterans the opportunity to train in adaptive athletics and learn about opportunities to pursue higher education.
The University of Arizona this week was home to about 20 veterans from around the country who enjoyed an opportunity to train in adaptive athletics, access health and wellness resources and learn veterans-specific information about higher education.
The UA's first "Guide to Personal Success: Ultimate Athletics Experience," or GPS, allowed physically disabled veterans, who ranged in age from 23 to 62, to train in wheelchair track, racing, tennis, rugby and basketball, and discuss the process for going – or going back – to college.
The participants came from as far as Puerto Rico, Georgia and Florida to attend the camp, which began Wednesday.
GPS is completely funded by the UA's Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project, a federal grant supported by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. The project looks at ways veterans can successfully transition and integrate into higher education.
Grijalva paid a visit to the GPS participants on Thursday afternoon, thanking them for their service to their country and encouraging them in their possible pursuits of higher education.
"We're pushing really hard that this idea that was seeded here at the UA be replicated across the nation," said Grijalva.
The benefits of athletics are countless, specifically for injured veterans, as they can provide opportunities to be competitive, stay healthy, connect with those who share similar life experiences and may encourage them to pursue higher education.
Amanda Kraus, director of the UA Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project, said GPS was designed to integrate athletics and education in a format customized for veterans.
"We framed it in the context of higher education," Kraus said. "We are making sure that they know college and additional degrees are attainable for them."
The GPS camp included clinics on wheelchair basketball, tennis, track and rugby, led by professional coaches and athletes. Attendees also participated in sessions on stress management, sleep health, alternative healing techniques and opportunities for higher education.
Representatives from the UA's Veterans Education and Transition Services, or V.E.T.S., program and several other departments were on hand to answer questions about the UA and discuss on-campus resources for veterans.
According to Kraus, many of the participants have had prior exposure to adaptive athletics, especially basketball; however, others are newly injured and wanted to continue having athletics be a part of their lives.
"When you become disabled, that is a transitional point in your life," Kraus said. Since the UA is one of the few universities with a competitive collegiate adaptive athletics program, Kraus said it was an ideal venue to connect coaches and veterans. The UA has six adaptive athletic programs, including men's and women's basketball, rugby and tennis.
"I've worked with some of our disabled veterans on our sports teams and from what I understand from them they have said they wouldn't be in college if it wasn't for our sports," Kraus said. "So I think that is really powerful."
In addition to the athletics component, another major goal of the GPS camp was to help the participants demystify the process for transitioning into higher education.
"I just find that the more I talk to veterans that the more they express that it's just daunting. There are too many processes, too many procedures, too much bureaucracy," Kraus said.
UA and Pima Community College officials engaged GPS attendees in discussions on the necessary steps to pursue a college education – including the new GI Bill, admissions, financial aid, campus resources and the PCC-to-UA transition process.
Several of the attendees have expressed interest in returning to college.
With a host of innovative on-campus resources to support veterans – such as the Disability Resource Center, the V.E.T.S. Center and the other programs within the Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project – Kraus sees the UA becoming a "hub of information" for veterans and a place where veterans feel supported and connected on campus.
"Our ultimate goal is to build a replicable model that can be used at other institutions of higher education."