BECKLEY, W.Va. — Area veterans participated in a variety of sporting competitions during the 1st Annual Hero Games at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Raleigh County Friday.

Activities included pickleball, corn hole, carpet bowling, a basketball free-throw challenge, and mini golf, with awards for the top three finishers in each event. The format was based on the National Veterans Golden Age Games and the National Veterans Wheelchair Games held annually in other parts of the country.

The center’s Outpatient Recreation Therapist, Jane Helsing, told MetroNews recreational therapy is regarded as a vital component of the VA’s comprehensive approach to health care, utilizing a wide range of activities and techniques to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and leisure needs of veterans dealing with psychological and physical illnesses and other disabling conditions.

“The reason why we’re doing this is to allow the veterans to get involved, compete with their peers,” she said. “We know that staying active can decrease PTSD symptoms, depression, and physical ailments.”

Helsing was hired in 2018, and has introduced yoga therapy, as part of the Beckley VAMC’s overall health and wellness program. She said she hopes the Hero Games eventually will include categories such as swimming, track and field, and archery.

Public Affairs Officer Sara Yoke credited several community partners whom she said were instrumental in making Friday’s event possible, including regional chapters of Soldiers’ Angels, Wounded Warrior Project, Team River Runner, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, and student volunteers from the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Certificate Program.

“Having those outside groups attend this event, and have their presence known, it’s creating a stronger sense of community,” she said. “The best thing is, it’s another resource for our veterans to be exposed to. We can’t do it alone. We have to rely on our community partners and our stakeholders to truly be able to serve veterans the best way possible.”

Yoke said she anticipates an expansion of the games in the future, as more organizations and businesses become involved, allowing access to additional equipment, services, recreational facilities, and outdoor sports fields.