Rec Fair allows Veterans to find their new passion - VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
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Rec Fair allows Veterans to find their new passion

Wheelchair Fencing

Two Veterans square off in a display of wheelchair fencing.

By Jeremy M. Laird
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hundreds of Veterans turned out to experience the world of adaptive sports and recreational therapy at the annual George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center Recreation Fair.

From kayaking to slack lining, wheelchair fencing to quad rugby, the fair exposed Veterans to the dozens of different recreational opportunities available to them through VA Salt Lake City Health Care System and their community partners.

“There are so many opportunities, but so many people don’t know these organizations exist,” said VA Salt Lake City Recreational Therapist Heather Brown. “This is just an opportunity for them to recognize and create awareness for what’s available to them.”

But for Heather, the fair is not just about education—it is about changing lives.

“I have seen people who don’t think they can do something then they get access to some type of adaptive equipment and they’ve totally changed their lives.”

Wheelchair basketball

Wheelchair basketball just one of the many activities Veterans could try out at the annual VA Salt Lake City Recreation Fair.

Living life again

Recreational Therapy changed the life of Veteran Thomas Johnson. Thomas suffered a spinal cord injury and went numb from his waist down. He attended the 2017 Rec Fair and started cycling on a recumbent bike and learned to kayak fish.

“I get to live life again,” said Thomas, tears welling up. “It’s not just stuck somewhere—like in a chair or going to the store and coming home. I get to go out and see nature again, which I didn’t think I could do.”

Since last year’s fair, Thomas took up snowshoeing over the winter through VA’s rec therapy program, and he will soon volunteer with Wasatch Adaptive—helping others learn to reengage with living.

Rec Therapy also trickled down and affected Thomas’s family life. His grandson helps Thomas get in and out of his recumbent bike and then tags along from there. “I get him out exercising and we go out as a family and ride,” said Thomas. “The Rec Fair has really opened up what I can do and made me live life again and be able to have fun.”

Veteran kayaks in pool

Veteran takes kayak around VA Salt Lake City pool during annual recreation fair.

“Be Stronger than your excuses”

Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran Feet Jensen also testified about the life-changing effects of recreational therapy.

Feet lost his legs when an IED exploded while he was deployed in Iraq in 2008. After he returned home, he figured an active life was over, he started to sink into depression, and felt like he couldn’t accomplish anything.

Then he discovered Heather and the recreational therapy program, “To have Heather Brown, specifically be like, no, Feet, you can totally accomplish anything you want. That was huge.”

And he has definitely accomplished things. Feet attended the Winter Sports Clinic in 2017 and 2018. He handcycles, plays sled hockey, skis, snowboards with prosthetics and will soon take up mountain biking.

“Just showed me that I had it in me and it wasn’t anything other than I need a little push.” said Feet. “I didn’t need them to carry me—I needed them to remind me that I was still a powerful warrior.”

That reminder is one Feet is now passing along to his fellow Veterans. “That’s what we are trying to do here [at the recreation fair], we are trying to show people that no matter your ability, no matter your disability… they can still get out. They can still do.”

And for Feet, now is the time to “do,” “You can give me a thousand reasons why you can’t and I will give you a thousand and one why you can. Be stronger than your excuses! Yesterday you said tomorrow-- don’t do that. “

The Recreation Fair takes place in the spring of year, but you don’t have to wait until next year's fair to find out more about the recreational therapy at VA Salt Lake City. You can call our out-patient recreation therapy staff:

  • Lilisbet Sotolong – Veterans experiencing Homelessness – ext. 6334
  • Michael Scott – Veterans diagnosed with PTSD / MST – ext. 2617
  • Heather Brown – Veterans diagnosed with physical disabilities – ext. 1559


You can also visit the recreation therapy website.


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