The 29th National Veterans Wheelchair Games come to a close tonight, and the big winner is … Spokane?
Not to take anything away from the individual achievements of 600-plus competitors – and not to put too parochial an edge on it – but the city’s standing as a convention and tourism player can only be enhanced by what was a positive week as measured by such gauges as enthusiastic verbal feedback and athletes’ Twitter postings. And don’t overlook the veteran who positioned himself along Spokane Falls Boulevard and hoisted a “Thanks, Spokane” sign.
It was fortuitous that those displays could be witnessed by 18 meeting planners, here from all over the country to consult with the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. They came for a meeting, but they got a demonstration of the professional planning and community zeal that await visitors.
The Visitors Bureau and the Spokane VA Medical Center spent two years preparing for this week’s activities, and it paid off. The Veterans Wheelchair Games, the largest yearly wheelchair sports event anywhere, have built-in emotional appeal, but with any gathering of such proportions, a few irritants can ruin the experience and scar the community’s reputation for hospitality.
Transportation is a common problem at large gatherings, but it was an asset here, according to Matthew Allen, a VA Medical Center spokesman. Indeed, the Spokane Transit Authority earned the same appreciative reviews that it got in 2007 for the reliability and efficiency with which it moved competitors and spectators for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Meanwhile, businesses not only put welcome signs in their windows, many went through their premises to make sure they were accessible for wheelchairs. Equally important, individual community members welcomed participants in uncounted spontaneous ways that athletes shared among themselves and reported back to event planners.
Not long ago, Spokane would have felt presumptuous going head to head with major cities for the right to host national events. Fact is, this community has made its modest size an advantage, giving event participants a full measure of attention – from businesses, media and the public at large – impossible in competitive metropolitan arenas.
But it takes more than that to produce the kind of experience that brings organizations, events and individuals back. It takes relentless hard work by event planners, backed by an enthusiastic public. Such a combination made the 29th Veterans Wheelchair Games a victory for the participants and the host community.