Coordinator of veterans games caught in shuffle

May 19, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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Cheryl Roberts

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Cheryl Roberts is busy organizing shuffleboard games, but she doesn't have time to play.

Roberts sometimes starts her work day at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., at 7 a.m. and finishes at 1 a.m. the next day only to turn around and be back at work later in the morning.

She's the organizer of the 12th National Veterans Golden Age Games, which are expected to draw hundreds of veterans from VA hospitals across the country.


The games, held at a different site each year, will be held Friday through May 27 in Leesburg, Va.

Roberts learned last year that she would coordinate this year's effort.

"This is a nightmare," Roberts said with a laugh.

The Shepherdstown, W.Va., native combined her love of sports growing up with a concern for how older people are treated to become a recreational therapist at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg.

Now she faces her most challenging task - organizing the national games.

The veterans compete in six different age categories beginning at 55. There also are divisions for veterans who are physically fit, use a wheelchair or are visually impaired.

They will compete in 12 different events, including bicycling, billiards, shuffleboard and swimming.

The logistics behind the National Veterans Golden Age Games account for Roberts' long days.

Thirty different subcommittees work behind the scenes and report to her.

She estimated she answers about 100 phone calls and another 100 e-mail messages a day.

Roberts has had to find more than 861 bedrooms, 250 classrooms and conference rooms, a 30,000-square-foot fitness center, as well as staff and volunteers, to care for a wide variety of medical concerns among the veterans.

Each VA hospital from across the country will be sending a team to compete, she said.

The goal of the games is to promote recreational therapy at the hospitals.

Recreational therapy is important because it can help improve patients' quality of life, she said.

Roberts started working at the VA in 1985.

The Jefferson High School graduate received her bachelor's degree in recreational therapy from Shepherd College and her master's degree in adult education/gerontology from the University of the District of Columbia.

"I just have a love for older people who are not just our elders, but our leaders," Roberts said.

She's also worked to obtain donations of gifts for the veterans and set up activities, including trips to Washington, D.C., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to make sure the participants get the most from the experience.

She's arranged for transportation for the veterans from the Department of Defense.

The games coincide with Memorial Day and veterans will get the chance to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as The Wall.

"That should be an emotionally charged event," she said.

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