Winning and losing doesn’t really matter this week to Loon Lake’s Roy “Bud” Bemis, who is competing in five events at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
“Six hundred of the most fantastic people you can imagine are coming over to play,” he said, “and they’re coming to my town to do it. What could be better than that?”
It’s one thing to talk a good game, but Bemis backs it up in word and deed. He experienced plenty of success at three previous Games, winning two gold medals and two silvers. Last year in Omaha, Neb., Bemis got skunked on the medals, but he didn’t walk away empty-handed and he made sure others didn’t either.
“Because Spokane was hosting in 2009, they had a booth at the Expo in Omaha,” Bemis recalled. “They were handing out pins: Near nature, near perfect. I said, ‘Give me a bag of those,’ and my dad and I handed them out. The first day I was in Omaha it was 86 temperature and humidity and it didn’t get any better the whole time we were there. We were inviting people to come to Spokane – we’ve got better weather, prettier girls and cheaper beer. With the response I got, I’m surprised they weren’t all here last month.”
The Games have become an important part of Bemis’ life. The Spokane native graduated from Central Valley High. His wife went to North Central and their three sons attended Mead.
“I finished high school because it meant a lot to my folks,” he said. “I graduated on June 4th. I went to boot camp June 11th.”
Bemis said he received a Purple Heart for injuries he suffered in Vietnam.
“We run PBRs (patrol boat river),” he said. “Our boat came under rocket attack and blew a hole in the boat. But it was MS (multiple sclerosis) that set me down, not the war.”
Bemis worked in the truck shop for Peirone Produce, had a stint as the “Orkin Man” and learned saddle making at the community college. He said he was preparing to open a saddle-making business “but MS struck.”
In 1998, Bemis’ feet started hurting, followed by numbness. New shoes didn’t ease the pain and arch supports didn’t help. After a round of medical tests, Bemis was diagnosed with MS in December 2000.
“I have a progressive type,” he said. “I sat down full time in December 2005. I say they took away the keys to my walker.”
But they gave back a way to compete. Bemis, who played some baseball and softball in his younger days, credits his involvement in the Games to Julie Adams, who was his recreational therapist at the VA hospital in Seattle.
“Bless her heart, she wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he said. “I had no idea it would be such an emotional and inspiring spectacle. To be part of it just blew me away. That was in 2006 and sometimes I still can’t talk about it without getting emotional.”
Why? “Because I was in such a depression,” Bemis said. “I was diagnosed in 2000 and in 2005 I was sitting in a wheelchair permanently. That analogy that you have to hit bottom and bounce … when I sat in this chair full time I hit bottom and the Games were my bounce and as far as I’m concerned I’m still on the way up.”
He went to the 2006 Games in Anchorage with one of his sons. He took his father to Milwaukee and Omaha. His son is with him this week and Bemis hopes to give family and friends something to cheer about. He’s competing in air gun, 9-ball, ramp bowling, javelin and weightlifting. Some of those events have been completed, but official results haven’t been posted.
“Air gun and 9-ball, they’re the two most popular sports because every vet learned how to shoot a gun and with the time off in the barracks you always shot pool,” he said.
Bemis has won gold medals in air gun in the novice and open divisions and he’ll try to complete what he calls the “triple crown” by winning the masters (40 and over) in Spokane.
“Last year I wasn’t able to use a support which I used in years before,” he said. “I had to shoot off hand. I was respectable but I didn’t win gold. This year there’s a separate category in your class if you elect to use a support and it’s going to be legal. A little problem I have is that I’m no longer able to pull the trigger with my finger on my right hand. The vision with my left eye, because of my MS, I can’t see the target as well so I’m forced to hold the gun to my shoulder with my right hand and reach across and pull the trigger with my left.
“It looks awkward as the dickens, but it works for me.”
Bemis was honored as one of the two torch bearers during opening ceremonies for the Games. He’s encouraged other area veterans to participate and who knows how many people in Omaha took his advice and made the trip to Spokane.
“The MS kept me from pursuing saddle making, that was my goal,” he said. “I can no longer do much. What I can do, I do the hell out of it.”