Army veteran Reed Weir has always been a thrill-seeker. And while it was that fearless mentality that ultimately led to a life-changing motorcycle accident in 1978 that left him paralyzed, it’s also the outlook that in the years following his accident has helped him fearlessly live his life through adaptive sports.
“The motorcycle I was riding when I had the accident was named the widowmaker at the time, and it was notorious for having too much power and poor handling,” Weir says. “I had broken my neck, and while face down in the Stryker frame at the McGuire VA hospital in Richmond, I wondered what the world ahead would hold for me.”
Following his father’s legacy of military service, Weir enlisted in the Army in 1976 in hopes of fulfilling his passions in some way for tinkering with cars and trucks. His recruiter immediately assigned him to combat arms, where he served as an armed crewman on M60 tanks.
But just two years into his beloved Army career, Weir suffered a T3-level spinal cord injury as well as a broken neck and back. Just weeks into his recovery and filled with uncertainty about his future, Weir began to find hope through fellow paralyzed veteran and Paralyzed Veterans of America National Service Officer Jesse Cox.
“Probably just a month or two into my injury, Paralyzed Veterans of America was on the radar for me,” Weir says. “The office was always open, and for my mom and dad, who were shaken up, it was calming and beneficial for them to see a professional gentleman in a wheelchair not only walking them through the claims process but showing them that life did go on.”
It certainly did go on for Weir, who, in 1981, attended the first National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Richmond as an observer. It was then that he became interested not only in the range of sports available to him but also in adaptive sports equipment.
“I’ve always liked tinkering with equipment, so in the 80s, when the first dedicated racing chairs came out, I worked with a friend who was a welder to put together some three-wheel racing chairs,” he says.
Weir became involved in various events at the Wheelchair Games, including track racing, the 5K, slalom and air rifles. In 1996, his wheelchair racing performance almost earned him a spot on the U.S. Paralympic team.
“That was before the handcycle days, and racing chairs were so expensive,” Weir says. “I was so into equipment that I started building my own frames.”
Weir’s passions for sports caught the attention of Paralyzed Veterans of America, which in 1997 began looking for an associate sports director to lead the National Trapshoot Circuit. Weir immediately took the job, and aside from racing and running the trapshoot circuit, he also helped lead the quad rugby and bowling programs.
Weir remains thankful for the opportunities adaptive sports have afforded him – both in living a healthy and active lifestyle and in securing fulfilling employment. “My involvement in sports allowed me to have an outlet, a positive outlook to be as involved as I wanted to be,” he says. “I definitely would not have enjoyed the life I have without sports.”
While no longer able to race, Weir says his ultimate goal is to help other disabled veterans find hope, health and healing through adaptive sports. “I want other veterans not to hesitate to get involved,” he says. “For a veteran, or even a non-veteran, I would encourage them to go the Wheelchair Games or other adaptive sports events and interact with the athletes. It can be life-changing seeing that the wheelchair can simply become part of your body, rather than just a huge ankle weight.”