Macaulay competes with pride, purpose

Juneau resident will participate in National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Milwaukee

Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2007

For Juneau's Susan Macaulay, joy and pride can be derived from competing and watching others achieve on the athletic fields.

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Macaulay, 41, will compete in the 27th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Milwaukee from June 19-23.

For Macaulay, a member of the U.S. Air Force who uses a wheelchair, this will be her third consecutive year representing Alaska at the event.

"It was very important to me," Macaulay said. "That made me believe that, yes, there are some things I can't do anymore, but there are things I can do that I didn't even know about. There are different ways to do things. Just because you can't do it the way you did when you're little doesn't mean you can't get it done."

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is an Olympics-style competition for disabled veterans.

Web links

For more on the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, check out and for the AlaskaDisabled Veteran Sports Program, check out

In addition to being a competition, the event serves as an important time of camaraderie and discovery.

"It's a big self-esteem builder for me," Macaulay said. "When you live in a small town or any town, you feel a lot of times like I stick out like a sore thumb. When you go there, there's about 600 veterans in chairs, plus families, caregivers and different volunteer who work with them. ... It's a big self-esteem builder. It's wonderful."

In addition to the Wheelchair Games, Macaulay also takes part in the annual National Disabled Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen, Colo., in April.

An important aspect of both events for Macaulay is watching others achieve what they might have thought of as impossible.

"A lot of the veterans that just came back from Iraq and Afghanistan from Walter Reed (Army Medical Center), their self-esteem is sub-zero," Macaulay said. "They're really scared coming to this new things with new people. It's remarkable seeing by the end of it what they can do and the pride and astonishment when they get to the top of the mountain of the climbing wall at the Winter Sports Clinic. It's remarkable to see kids, people get to the top and ring that bell, the pride on their faces."

Macaulay works out three times a week at the JRC/The Alaska Club.

She also rides a hand-powered tricycle with her friend and part-time personal trainer, Jamie Bursell.

"We used to go riding a lot on bikes," Bursell said. "We go out the road different times and one time she was going down a pretty steep hill and was just flying and I looked up and she was on two wheels. It was so scary, but we both stopped and laughed so hard. It was just a total thrill."

Bursell called her friend a motivational force for others.

"They see her around and I've heard people comment that she motivates them a lot," Bursell said. "They see her work out and be active and she's happy and doing so much for herself, it makes others want to be more active too."

Macaulay will be competing in four very different events in Milwaukee - bowling, airgun, motorized slalom and power soccer. Power soccer is a four-on-four sport played on a basketball-sized court in which athletes use their chairs and feet to move the ball.

"I've always been one who gets into games and soccer and activities," said Macaulay, who only recently started using a wheelchair full-time. "I love to play tennis. But I thought now that I'm in a chair I won't be able to do anything. Wrong story. There's four events that I'm going to try this year."

In addition to her physical activities, Macaulay donates her time to Riverbend Elementary School, where she volunteers about 20 hours per week. Riverbend teacher Carolyn Kelley will accompany Macaulay to Milwaukee as her volunteer caregiver.

The Alaska Disabled Veteran Sports Program will fund Macaulay's trip to Milwaukee. The ADVSP Polar

Rollers was started by a handful of disabled veterans in 2001 to provide therapeutical recreational activities for Alaska veterans, according to the organization's Web site.

Seeing firsthand how sports has physically, emotional and psychologically benefited so many veterans, Macaulay would like to get as many servicemen and women involved as possible.

"Hopefully if we can let Juneau know that I'm doing it and that we need help," Macaulay said, "we can get something started to have sponsors from here."

• Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at

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