Ventura Catala, 53, began competing in archery as a 12-year-old growing up in New York, and he later threw the javelin and shot at high school in Queens.
In 1984, Catala suffered a spinal cord injury on a training jump with the 82nd Airborne in the Mojave Desert, and was in a body cast for 18 months, then began using a wheelchair.
Now, the Laurel resident and Army veteran is again competing in archery and field events such as the javelin and shot put.
Catala won a silver medal in the air gun and took a bronze in the javelin and discus at the 33rd annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa, Fla., held July 13 to 18.
"I really enjoyed this World Championship Games because the competition was fierce," said Catala, who has lived in Laurel since 2006. "Every competition that I go to, I have to earn it. I don't like to win outright. I like someone to challenge me."
Catala was one of three Maryland residents who brought home medals as part of the Chesapeake Wheelers. He was joined by VA Maryland Health Care System teammates Nathan Moody, 66, an Army veteran from Nottingham; and Navy veteran Wesley Hardwick, 54, of Dundalk.
Moody won two silver medals in discus and trapshooting and a bronze in archery, javelin and shot put. Hardwick won gold in archery and trapshooting.
"I always liked field events," said Catala, who also did gymnastics when he was younger. "I have always been into sports. I began doing the air gun back when I was in Boy Scouts."
The athletes train on their own but also attended adaptive sports clinics at Perry Point VA Medical, where they train under Shermaine Johnson, a supervisor of recreation therapy.
"Recreation therapy wants to be able to provide multiple adaptive sport and outdoor recreation components to further enhance rehabilitation services and increase the quality of life of our veterans," Johnson said in a statement from the Department of Veterans Affairs. "We understand the importance of our veterans' strong desire to be involved in extreme sports and maintaining an active leisure lifestyle, regardless of their injuries."
The event in Tampa last month, with nearly 600 competitors from the United States, Great Britain and Puerto Rico, is the largest multisport wheelchair event in the world for military veterans who use wheelchairs for athletics due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or neurological problems, according to the VA.
More fun than watching
In 1998, a doctor at the Baltimore VA Medical Center suggested Catala take up wheelchair sports, and he has competed every year since.
Last year, the event was held in Richmond and in 2011 Pittsburgh was the host. Next year, the games will be held in Philadelphia.
Catala also competed in San Antonio, Puerto Rico and California.
In addition to competitive sports, Catala hunted as a young boy.
"I shot my first deer with a gun. It was just too easy," said Catala, who started archery because it was more challenging.
These days, he practices the air gun four hours a day at his home.
"I like doing sports more so than watching sports," Catala told the VA.
The games are presented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. For more information, go to wheelchairgames.va.gov. For information about Chesapeake Wheelers, contact Rosalia Scalia at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun