PUBLISHED: 3:11 PM on Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Macaulay earns five golds in national event
With all of the discussion about where the next Olympic games should end up, it could be easy to overlook some winning athletes living closer to home. Yet four Alaskan athletes recently represented the state at the 25th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and one of them, Juneau's own Susan Macaulay, brought home more than her share of the gold.

"It was awesome! It was wonderful!" she said of her weeklong experience competing in the annual event. "I won five gold medals, and I met tons of wonderful people."

All of the athletes who compete in the games are military veterans who use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries, neurological conditions, orthopedic amputations or other disabilities.

Macaulay, who is brain-injured, competed for the first time in the games, which is the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world.

"I'd heard about the wheelchair games, but I wasn't eligible to go before," said the athlete, who also participates in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. "In October, when my walking got taken away from me, I began to use a wheelchair, so I became eligible. And I'm so glad I went."

Macaulay won gold in five separate events including stick bowling, 9-ball pool, air guns, table tennis and a motorized wheelchair rally. Athletes in the game compete within three divisions-Masters (over age 40), Novice (first-time competitors) and Open (all others, or those who choose to compete in this category.) They also compete according to the level of their physical ability, with three quadriplegic-level classes, and four paraplegic-level or amputee classes.

"My favorite event was air guns, because I feel that I did the best in that event," explained Macaulay. "But all of the activities are wonderful because they give you an uplifting feeling. You find out that your disabilities don't overrule you-you find out what your real abilities are."

More than 500 athletes from 45 states, Puerto Rico and Great Britain attended the event, which is presented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. In addition to Macaulay, Alaskan athletes included Don Peters and Tom Wilson from Anchorage, and William Allen Johansen from Wasilla. Next year's national event will be held in Anchorage, Alaska from July 2-8.

"I thought Minnesota was really nice, though it's a huge city," said Macaulay. "It was a little strange being from such a little place and going to such a big city, but the people were very friendly and the weather was nice. And though I love traveling, I'll be happy to get back to Juneau. I like the peacefulness of a small town."

Even though she's already a five-time gold medallist, Macaulay plans to begin practicing for next year's games when she returns home. "I did practice some this year, but since I hadn't been there before, I didn't really know what I needed to do," she said. "Now that I know what I need to improve upon, I'll definitely be practicing more."

Unlike some of her competitors who are concerned about coming to Alaska for the games next year, Macaulay is sure to feel right at home. "People were asking me so many questions-they are so excited to come to Alaska," she said. "They were asking me how many jackets they should bring, and I was laughing. I kept saying, 'but it's going to be summer!'"

Macaulay also feels that she might have an advantage in one of the events-the motorized wheelchair rally. "You follow a map and go on trails to different sites," she explained of the game. "There you have to answer questions and pick up a card. At the end of the game, you get scored on your answers, and on what kind of poker hand you can make out of your cards."

"A lot of the questions they asked were about Minnesota!" she laughed about 2005's event. "But when it's in Anchorage, maybe they'll ask questions about Alaska. That would be really neat!"