David Fowler travels all over the country. Until his Spokane visit this week for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, he had seen only one piece of public art with a wheelchair in it – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s monument in Washington, D.C.
So when Fowler rolled by the Bloomsday sculpture in Riverfront Park and saw two wheelchair racers, he figured it was just another example of Spokane hospitality.
“Spokane has opened their arms and hearts to us,” said the 48-year-old athlete from Houston. “I’ve had nothing but pleasant encounters. Congratulations.”
The 29th annual games, which drew more than 600 athletes from every state, Great Britain and Puerto Rico, came to a close Saturday evening.
At 6:30, athletes and their families, friends and coaches gathered outside a Spokane Convention Center ballroom, standing and sitting in line for cocktails. They were eager to share opinions on how Spokane ranked in terms of accessibility – and other city amenities.
Spokane got high marks for wide sidewalks, the Centennial Trail, signage and friendliness.
Judy Overholt, an athlete from Myrtle Beach, S.C., said: “Elevator signage was everywhere. So were push buttons for the doors. When I went shopping, if there was something I couldn’t reach, people would help. I don’t always have that back home.”
Many raved about Spokane’s natural beauty, especially the Spokane River.
“I love the scenery, the greenery,” said athlete Robert Satterwhite, of Raleigh, N.C.
But many offered suggestions for improvement. Some of the downtown curb cuts, where streets meet sidewalks, are too narrow and too deep, they said.
“And you need to fix the cracks in the sidewalks,” suggested William Hendrickson, of San Diego.
The 17-member delegation from Puerto Rico wished for more shade and more sprinklers to cool off before and after events. Half thought the food here was too spicy; the other half said not spicy enough. But they all praised the bus service.
Sharon Helman, director of Spokane VA Medical Center, told the closing-ceremony crowd that hosting the games was just one small gesture of payback to veterans.
“Darn it, you all deserve it,” she said. “You took an oath to protect and serve all of us. On behalf of Spokane, thank you for serving our country, for inspiring us this week. We will never forget you.”