Tempe, AZ has a long history of celebrating diversity and inclusivity in our community. As a city that welcomes all, Tempe is no stranger to hosting events and athletes from all backgrounds and abilities.
In July 2022, Tempe hosted the 41st National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). Over 350 military veterans from around the country, Puerto Rico, and Great Britain traveled to Tempe to compete in the Games. Alongside the competitors were countless medical staff, volunteers, friends, and family who supported and cheered them on throughout the weeklong event. In October 2022, the Tempe Tourism Office (TTO) co-sponsored the latest economic impact study of the adapted sports industry. In March 2023, Tempe also welcomed 40 Para athletes for the first Team USA Paradragons training camp, hosted at Tempe Town Lake.
Here are a few things we learned and some helpful insights you might want to consider in hosting an adaptive sports event:
- Local Organizing Committee (LOC) – The Phoenix VA and their staff with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) served as our LOC for the NVWG. Having members of a LOC who are well versed in the community you’re hosting is crucial. The Phoenix VA helped provide medical staff, necessary equipment, and volunteers for the event. They worked with our local hotels to provide accessible accommodations, our sporting venues, and the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to ease travel arrivals and departures. Countless discussions, meetings, webinars, and online trainings were held to prepare for the Games. Our partners were also instrumental in creating Covid-19 mitigation plans prior to and during the event.
- Ability360 – a Center for Independent Living (CIL), located in Phoenix, AZ is an organization operated by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. They were instrumental in helping us bring the NVWG to Tempe and their facility hosted a few of the competition events. They also assisted with the USA Paradragons for their training camp, working with them on logistics and planning, and providing support to their athletes during the event.
- Arizona Dragonboat Association (AZDBA) as well as other local community organizations also assisted with the Team USA Paradragons training camp. They planned to close out their camp by joining the AZDBA Festival races. However, unforeseen circumstances led to the race being cancelled. Our community partner, the Desert Botanical Gardens, stepped in and provided a wonderful experience for the athletes to enjoy in lieu of the races.
“Even once the races were cancelled, you stepped up immediately and helped us to fill a void with the opportunity to visit the Desert Botanical Gardens which really presented a nice closing to our almost week long camp in Tempe. We chose Tempe because of its central U.S. location, weather, Lake Tempe’s calm waters (usually), the venue site itself for ease of access, and our other partners along the way including the AZDBA, Ability 360, and Adaptive Adventures Team Blue Phoenix. Because of all these points, I am certain that Team USA will return to Tempe to host an even bigger and longer camp in our next cycle for a quest to attend the World Dragon Boat Championships.” – Lonnie Homenuk, USA Paradragon Coach
Communication and Raising Awareness
- Downtown Tempe Authority (DTA) – the NVWG headquarter hotels were located in downtown Tempe as well as the main sports venue, the Sun Devil Fitness Center (SDFC). We worked with DTA to inform our local downtown merchants and gave them information on how to make their businesses more accessible. We also shared tips on how to safely support veterans during the NVWG who may experience anxiety when in a new environment.
- Marketing and social media – we utilized our website and social media channels to promote the event and raise awareness within our community. This included reminders about making Tempe as accessible as possible (i.e. parking electric scooters, such as Lime or Bird, out of the way and keeping sidewalks and ramps clear).
Knowledge is Power
- Hosting adaptive sports events doesn’t necessarily cost more. Familiarize yourself with what it takes to host an event and what resources you already have. By doing so, not only are you leading disability inclusion efforts for your destination, you are also providing opportunities and education to both local and non-local community members.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – the more you know, the better you can serve and support the athletes.
- You will learn a lot in the process. No one is expecting you to be perfect. Be respectful, acknowledge what you don’t know, and make notes for future reference. Most importantly, keep learning about disability sports and the community.
The Sports Events & Tourism Association (Sports ETA) selected TTO as the winner for the Event or Program Impact of the Year Award (population under 500,000), for hosting the NVWG at their annual Symposium in May 2023. This recognition is a testament to the work that our team at TTO and the City of Tempe have done to make our community as diverse, inclusive, and accessible as possible.
It truly takes a village to ensure success in hosting not only the NVWG, but different calibers of events. We are grateful and fortunate to have such a supportive community as we look to invest in and host more adaptive sport groups.