For a year, David Tims Jr. trained for the Veterans Wheelchair Games, lifting weights, swimming laps and conditioning his body for what was to come.
He left his home in West Jordan two weeks ago in prime condition for the 50-yard freestyle swimming event in Pittsburgh.He came home with the gold medal for the 100-yard event instead.
Doctors at the 18th annual games said Tims, 42, had to compete at a higher level because of his type of disability. That meant a year of training would be lost unless he competed in the longer 100-yard event.
So he did. And he won.
"I wanted to get out at 50 yards," Tims said. "I was running out of gas."
But the only Utahn to compete in the games kept swimming and came out of his first competition with a gold medal. He also competed in pool, bowling and air rifle events. He had the fastest time in the slalom, an obstacle course-type event but was disqualified after he failed to spin his wheelchair at the top of a ramp.
"I've always been a competitive-type person all my life," Tims said. "This was a lot of fun."
The Veterans Wheelchair Games were held earlier this month in Pittsburgh. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, 600 athletes from 40 states, Puerto Rico and Great Britain competed.
All athletes are military veterans who use wheelchairs.
Tims entered the Army at 17 and was stationed in England during Vietnam. He was paralyzed when, at 23, he was jump-starting a car and was run over. The rehabilitation was difficult. Tims said he had to relearn how to do everything, including how to swim without the use of his lower body. But he'd been active in football, soccer and baseball growing up in New Jersey and he wanted to stay fit.
Tims moved to Utah eight years ago. He heard about the Veterans Wheelchair Games but for two years straight was injured and couldn't compete. He trains at the Veterans Administration Hospital where friends, like Dan Romero and Larry Garlock, open up the pool for him every day.
He's now spreading the word at the VA about the opportunities to compete. Tims is planning on attending next year's games in Puerto Rico and an international competition in Great Britain. He's also planning on taking up skiing to compete in the Paralympics in Utah in 2002.