, better known as 'Wheelchair Willie,' was born in 1966 in San Diego and now resides in Hemet, California. Willie's family moved to South Dakota when he was just a year old, and then to Texas shortly after. Willie spent the majority of his childhood in Texas, and at the age of 18, he enlisted in the United States Army, where he served two years until being medically discharged. In 2005, Willie was riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle and ended up crashing into a cement pillar head on at 100+ miles per hour. Willie miraculously survived the collision, but he had sustained spinal cord injuries at C4, C5, and C6, as well as a stroke that resulted in traumatic brain damage.
A year after his injury, Willie's therapist contacted him and suggested he look into participating in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. He went on to sign up for a number of unfamiliar events and traveled to Alaska in 2006 for his first appearance in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Willie did not immediately embrace what the games had to offer. It took him a few years of competing before he became obsessed and realized that these games were his true calling. For the last 17 years, he has competed in the slalom, discus, javelin, shot put, power chair 200, power chair 400, power chair soccer, and motor rally. He has won the gold medal in the slalom 14 times and boasts more than 80 medals in his career. Willie has been using an Invacare power wheelchair since he began competing in the games.
To Willie, the games are all about new experiences, pushing himself and discovering new boundaries. Any event that involves veterans is a great experience for Willie to be out there with his fellow veterans, exchanging stories, advice, and comradery. It gives Willie an avenue to speak with veterans and assist in educating and mentoring newcomers. The games are now like coming into a family reunion for Willie. In the 2021 during the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, in New York City, Willie was honored with the Spirit of the Games Award, which is the highest honored award that is given to the a player who embodies the values and integrity of the games, and is awarded through the voting of his competing peers. Willie recognizes this as his greatest achievement thus far.
Willie currently volunteers for the Cloverlane Foundation and Veteran's Mobility Projects as the Sports Director. He is also a member of the Warrior Veterans Adaptive Sports Club, the United States Power Soccer Association's first all-Veteran team. Willie has been using Invacare power wheelchairs his entire disability journey, including the Invacare® TDX® and Storm Series® power wheelchairs. In his daily life and when competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, he currently uses an Invacare TDX SP2 power wheelchair
. Willie expresses his appreciation to the Invacare team, who work closely with him to ensure his power wheelchair is always ready to rock and roll for his next challenge.
Aside from competing in wheelchair games, what are some of your other favorite hobbies?
I actively participate in many other things that entail supporting other veterans, which really enhances my life and gives me a sense of fulfillment in what I do. I also love fishing, and staying active within community organizations such as American Legion, the local theatre, and anything that involves bringing positivity out of everyone. A positive life is the only way to try and live.
What kind of music do you enjoy listening?
When it comes to music, I listen to all kinds. It can range from everything such as pop, jazz, blues, and rock. I can drift off into music for days. If I had to say, my favorite song is 'Ten Thousand Fists' by Disturbed.
Do you have any pets?
I do currently have a Shepard named Lady. My family and I recently rescued her from the pound and we've only had her for about a month so we are still working with her. I also previously had a golden doodle named Marcus that sadly passed away. I'm a big lover of all animals but especially dogs. No matter what, I'll always have a dog by my side for the rest of my life.
How many tattoos do you have?
I can't think of a specific figure off the top of my head. However, I have complete sleeves on both arms, tattoos on my back and chest, and I have lately begun working on my legs. Both of my favorites are on my chest. I have scroll work of all my children on my left chest, which is very special to me. The other on the right side of my chest is a representation of the wheelchair games as a cog, as well as all military branches as cogs. That piece took me nearly two years to design and finish.
What inspired you to get the Invacare logo tattooed on your leg?
It's my way of saying thank you to Invacare for all of their years of sponsorship of the wheelchair games, as well as all of the extra work they did with me to maintain my chair as up to date as possible, and ultimately enabling me to do what I love most.
What's included on your bucket list?
I want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, take a ride in a helicopter, and take my family on as many trips as possible. Mainly simple things, but those are the things that matter most in life.