The first few events didn’t go Gordon Jeans’ way. So the 59-year-old Apex resident knew what he needed to do.”I’m just gonna find a corner, smoke a cigar and do a crossword puzzle,” Jeans said. “See if my brain’s working today.”Jeans, a veteran of the Army’s armored division, was spending the day on the campus of Duke University, competing in the Valor Games Southeast, the three-day adaptive sports competition for disabled veterans and members of the Armed Forces.So far, the first three events of the day had produced nothing but frustration. He finished eighth in air rifle, a competition he’s won at other veteran’s competitions in the past.”The boccia fell apart in the afternoon,” Jeans said of event two. “They didn’t even have medals for it. The problem they run into with this kind of stuff is that people are doing more than one thing in a day. So, if they’re all on the volleyball court, they can’t come to boccia. And since boccia was a team competition, the whole team has to be there.”Then it was on to table tennis.”I couldn’t do it,” Jeans said. “I guess I got up on the wrong side of the bed. But I said, ‘I’m not going to get frustrated.'”That’s when Jeans found a secluded spot for his cigar and crossword.”Literally every morning, I do them,” he said. “The outlook for the day depends on how far I get. If I mess up on a Monday, I’m toast. Monday are the easy ones.”Like most of the other Valor games competitors, that’s the way things go for Jeans. There are good days and bad days. Confined to a wheelchair due to a degenerative spinal injury that resulted from a 10-year career spent in tank battalions, there are some things Jeans can’t do on certain days, and it’s best not to get frustrated.The final event of the day was archery, and Jeans was filled with nervous energy as he waited for his heat. On his lap, Angel-A, his blue-eyed dappled dachshund service dog gave him a concerned glance.”She keeps track of my heart rate,” Jeans explained. “When it gets going too fast, she gives me a little warning that it’s time to settle down.”When it was his turn to shoot, Jeans set Angel-A’s blanket on a folding chair, then placed the dachshund atop it. She didn’t seem happy to be separated from him, but, a mere arm’s reach away, she finally settled down and kept an eye on him.”They told me I get six arrows to figure out how the bow’s working,” Jeans said, “but I guarantee there’s going to be more in the ground than in the target. I haven’t shot a bow since the 80s, and I don’t even know how it’s going to work with the chair yet. I’ve never actually shot sitting down.”The idea of training for the Valor Games, something that would be a given for most athletes preparing for a major competition, is complicated at best. Practice has to be evaluated not just for its ability to build up skill and expertise but also for the potential of breaking down a body that can only do so much in a day.Jeans hit the target with his first practice arrow, at about 2:00, a couple rings from the outside. Still, it’s a far cry from his dire “more in the ground” prediction. He second shot pierced the bullseye at the center.”Accidents can happen to anyone,” he groused. “I’m just glad I got something I was supposed to be shooting at.”Then it was time to shoot for real, and Jeans was again on target. He found the bullseye twice, and his other three arrows in the first set were all close to the middle.With Jeans relaxed after finding his rhythm, Angel-A curled up to rest on the chair next to him. Jeans got another bullseye on his second set and racked up points with his other four arrows as well. Still, a competitor at the far end of the range was consistently clustering his arrows at the center of his target, leaving Jeans in second place. Considering this is just the first of several heats of shooters, it means that a medal is unlikely at best.”I’d like to see what bow he’s using,” Jeans said. “I bet he’s got his own bow. When you use your own equipmentand you trainit makes a difference. Otherwise, it’s like borrowing clubs every time you go out to golf.”Jeans tired in his final two sets, getting just one more bullseye in his final 10 shots. The effort of the day clearly wore him down, but, while enjoying one more cigar, Jeans was content with the outcome.”It went well,” he said. “I didn’t know how it was going to go, but I was able to hit the target.””It’s just good to be able to get out here and do this,” he added. “It’s a great thing for all of us.”If there were sponsors, perhaps Jeans would be able to show up with his own rifle and bow. Maybe he’d be able to do some training, at his own pace, to prepare.Until then, there will be good days and bad days.
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