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“PVA has found a way to make me independent in sports and in everyday life.”

Le'Toi, a U.S. Army Veteran and PVA Wisconsin Chapter member, lost her mother when she was just 16 years old. With no father figure in her life and a desire to serve her country and travel, she joined the military as a truck driver after high school.

“I thought the military would teach me and give me an opportunity that I couldn't find out in the world at a young age,” she says.

After completing her military service, Le'Toi began experiencing back pain that eventually paralyzed her from the waist down. Despite numerous medical visits, she remained undiagnosed until finally an MRI revealed a lesion wrapped around her spine.

It was later determined that she had stage four non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The news was initially overwhelming for her, and she felt depleted and helpless. She was 27 years old and felt she had no more than a year left to live.

“I pushed all my friends and family away. I didn't want to be pitied on. I felt helpless because now I have to learn how to live in this chair and you're telling me I'm dying,” Le’Toi recalls.

However, she found motivation when she regained some movement in her toe, which inspired her to keep pushing forward.

She also had a close circle of friends and family around her who refused to let her give up.

Le’Toi went to the VA Hospital in Long Beach, California where she met PVA members who were demonstrating adaptive sports. Once she got into a basketball chair, she knew that was what she wanted to do. She saw other people in a wheelchair like herself enjoying life and playing sports, and she knew she had something to look forward to. “When I became paralyzed, I thought I’d never do sports again. I thought I would need somebody to help me do almost everything in my life,” she says.

Adaptive sports opened up a world of freedom and independence for Le’Toi. Traveling to different events gave her confidence, and the opportunity to build the strength she needed to get her wheelchair and her basketball chair in and out of her car. She attended her first National Veterans Wheelchair Games in 2017 in Salt Lake City, which she says was her favorite one, because she was introduced to what she says is her PVA family. “I have never seen so many people in wheelchairs with so many awesome smiles,” she remembers.

Because of Le’Toi’s spirit and mentorship, she took home the Spirit of the Games award in 2021.

“PVA is the reason I found out about adaptive sports, and I can honestly say it changed my life,” she says.

She became a board member of her local chapter, and they encouraged her to showcase her cooking skills. She developed a YouTube series, demonstrating adaptive cooking techniques for others with disabilities. “I want to show other people in a chair like myself that ‘Hey you can still do what you need to do in the kitchen. It might take a little longer, but with a few extra tools, you could still cook.’”

“PVA has given me a place where I could give back, where I could give the skills and inspiration and even knowledge to people who are disabled, to people who might be where I once was when I was depressed and in the house for 23 hours out the day. PVA gives me a reason to live.”

Additionally, Le'Toi has participated in PVA’s Women Veterans Empowerment Retreats, which she finds valuable for the information, connections, and support they provide.

“I never leave a Women’s Retreat without knowing something,” Le’Toi says. “I get more information, whether it's a new friendly face that I can contact throughout the year or some information that'll help me better myself when dealing with the VA or my doctors. It's just helpful tools to get me through life.” And she goes on, “I think it's important for women to become members of PVA to have a voice and to be heard. There’s power in numbers.”

One of Le’Toi’s favorite things about the military is the bond you build with other servicemembers. And she has found a similar family with PVA. She says it’s the only organization that has put the smile on her face, and she is grateful for the camaraderie, opportunities, and knowledge that she has gained by being a part of PVA. “They’ve given me a disabled community, a family of Veterans – a family that I never imagined having after I was injured. People in my life tell me I do more than they do, and I’m disabled.”

Le’Toi has come a long way from the 27 year-old with the frightening diagnosis. So what advice would she give to those who are newly injured or diagnosed? “I would tell them to soak up the knowledge that is around you. With the right people in your corner, you will overcome anything that's in your way.”

“PVA put me in a position to soar. I took one step from PVA and I've continued to move on. And I think that's the goal of PVA – to help them continue to move.”

Le’Toi goes on: “PVA has helped change my life in many ways. I wouldn’t have the community that I have now with my fellow disabled Veterans. I wouldn’t have accessible equipment in my house like my shower chair, or bars around my house. I'm able to travel the world. I see different states every year because of PVA, whether it's the National Veteran Wheelchair Games or whether it's the Women Veterans Empowerment Retreat. PVA has found a way to make me independent in sports and in everyday life.”


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