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Veterans with disabilities find joy in the game of football

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Posted at 10:51 AM, Oct 21, 2021

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — As the Browns get set to play tonight at FirstEnergy Stadium in what some are calling a must win-game, another, far more meaningful game of football took place Wednesday at the Cleveland Heights Rec Center. It’s giving local veterans an outlet to unwind, and a new way to enjoy the sport they love.

“I made it a point if I had to be in the chair, okay, but I will be one fine-looking man in a chair,” said Samuel “Wheels” Johnson, a 57-year-old Army veteran.

Johnson has a big personality and a positive outlook on life. He takes that positive energy and passes it off to fellow veterans.

“I open my heart up to any veteran who needs to talk, or to just hang out or get away,” Johnson said.

The pandemic has made it tough to catch up in person

“It’s been almost a year, no contact with no veterans, no nothing, no participation,” Johnson said.

But on Wednesday at the Cleveland Heights Rec Center, Johnson and his fellow veterans are playing a good old-fashioned game of football, thanks to the VA and Adaptive Sports Ohio.

“The band back together again,” Johnson said.

It may look different — no score is kept here and there are no bogus penalty flags. Just pure joy for some who sacrificed so much for the country.

Johnson said events like these help veterans get “out and about communicating, congregating, fellowshipping.”

It also serves as a useful tool in a veteran's rehabilitation regiment.

“It improves quality of life,” said Aubrey Lash, a recreation therapist with the Cleveland VA. “Increases socialization, reduces isolation for the veterans — offering new leisure and exercise opportunities like this one.”

It’s also just good for morale.

“This is what we do,” Johnson said. “You want to hang, you want to roll with the veterans.”

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