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Sports clinic brings injured vets to LJ

By Matthew Gilson

On Saturday, veterans from across the country will convene in San Diego - including La Jolla Shores - for the inaugural National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.

Competition starts on Monday for the Department of Veterans Affairs event, which is designed to honor recently injured veterans and provide them with an opportunity to connect with other veterans while practicing new athletic skills.

They’ll be swimming, surfing, kayaking, cycling and competing in track and field events

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through Oct. 3, with all of the surfing contested at La Jolla Shores each day from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cindy Butler, San Diego representative for the VA, said the vets will get instruction in the various sports as well as stress management and coping skills. After the training sessions, the teams will travel and compete together throughout the week.

Ideally, the athletes will develop relationships that enable them to stay connected and support each other long after the event is over, said Richard Olague, the VA public affairs coordinator overseeing the event.

Other venues are Mission Bay Yacht Club, San Diego Harbor, South Park on the Embarcadero across from the Marriott Hotel and the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

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Olague said approximately 60 veterans, including some from San Diego County, are expected to participate. All of the athletes were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, he said. Their injuries range from amputations and traumatic brain injuries to burns and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Olague said that the main purpose of the clinic is to provide the veterans with opportunities to bond and establish camaraderie.

This is the first year for the program, he added, noting that the clinic is being treated as somewhat of a pilot program.

In upcoming years, the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to expand the event to include more participants. Other sports may be rotated in as well in an effort to expose injured veterans to a wider variety of athletic pursuits, Olague said.