THIRD STREET — While the rest of the world is focused on the nail-biting intensity of World Cup soccer matches, 82 year-old Melanie Downing is gearing up for another competition; The Veteran’s Wheelchair Games.
Now, one may wonder, how can she possibly compete in a sports competition at her age? Well, Melanie Downing is no ordinary 82-year-old. This Santa Monica resident is an extremely proud U.S. Navy Veteran, who served during the Korean War. When asked about her reason for going into the Navy, she replied, “Is there really any other branch? My dad was in the Navy, my brother was in the Navy, and I really didn’t have a desire to go anywhere else.”
Although Downing now suffers with severe arthritis, she has found a new way to get a work-out. She has been competing in the Veterans Wheelchair Games since 2006, when she traveled all the way to Anchorage, Alaska. Since then, she has traveled to various cities and states across the country, including Milwaukee, Wisc. and Omaha, Neb. This year the games are in Denver, Colo.
“When I first got into a chair, I was looking for some kind of outlet,” said Downing. “I ran across [my coach] and we got to talking, and he suggested I try out for the games.
“I love them.”
Downing doesn’t just compete in the games, she wins. Since 2006, she has won a total of 12 medals (six gold, three silver and three bronze), which she proudly displays around her neck. She has placed in such events as bowling, power chair relay and motorized rally.
From all of her accomplishments, one would gather that she was extremely intent on going out and winning. However, although she’s proud, it was less important to her that she won gold — when displaying her medals, she exclaimed “I like the bronze ones more, don’t you? I just think they’re the prettiest. I should win more of those!."
She believes it’s more important that she gains the experience of competing, and meeting all the great people she comes across. Winning comes in second.
“It feels good to win medals, but let me tell you something about the wheelchair games; you meet the most amazing people. There are young people and old people with all these horrible disabilities participating, and they just go out there and continue to compete. It’s awe-inspiring.”
She also says that, while she doesn’t have much, she is always trying to do her part to help her community. Since she moved to Santa Monica, about 20 years ago, she has been extremely saddened by the amount of homeless people living on the streets. Although she expressed that she doesn’t have much to give, she does what she can to help their situation.
“I like to buy Bibles, and then give them away. Usually I go near the ocean. There are so many homeless people down there; it’s absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t really afford to give them money, so I give them Bibles. They really need them.”
She also takes trips to the Veterans Administration Hospital in West L.A., where she spends time with the patients, some suffering from conditions similar to hers.
“I go over to the VA about three times a week and work with some of the patients down there. I play dominoes, talk with them, and always try to go in there with a smile on my face. I see so many of these people with frowns, and I don’t want to be that way. I promised myself that when I got into a chair I was never going to be like that.”
Downing will continue to compete at the games until July 9, when she hopes to return with some more medals (maybe even a couple of bronze). To see how she’s doing or to find out more about the Veteran’s Wheelchair Games, go to www.wheelchairgames.va.gov.