Tomah VA saving lives of disabled veterans through sports

The first annual heart of a hero 5k walk and run is raising money to help disabled veterans compete in adaptive sports all over the country.

The money is helping adaptive athletes pay for their travel and lodging expenses.

One veteran says it’s changed his life for the better

“I guarantee you it will save some other veterans life,” said Ervin Mulkey, an army veteran who works to get disabled Veterans into adaptive sports,

Mulkey said it’s challenging because many veterans are depressed after having gone through a lot.

“It’s very traumatic, and especially when it happens, you know, in a car crash or getting shot at over in Iraq,” Mulkey said.

Debbie Phleps, doctor of physical therapy at the Tomah Veterans Affairs, works with Mulkey and started a 5k race to raise money to get veterans in adaptive sports.

“You get someone who goes to the event and really is struggling socially, physically in many different ways, and then they are able to participate in sport and it gives them a new identity,” Phleps said.

Phleps said she’s seen the sport save lives.

“One gentleman in particular he wouldn’t leave his house. He said, ‘Deb I would go to Walmart at two in the morning because I don’t like to be around people; and I thought he would be a good candidate for the wheelchair games,” Phleps said.

That man was Mulkey.

“I actually got hurt right before we was to deploy to Desert Storm.” I ended up falling off my tank and messed my back up really bad. It was really hard for me to watch my guys leave without me,” Mulkey said.

Ten years ago Mulkey went to the doctor to try and fix his back.

“I ended up having to have four back surgeries which ended up putting me in a wheelchair,” Mulkey said.

He became depressed and reclusive.

“Not talking to anybody except my son, he was about the only one I would talk with. Even the thoughts of suicide came. I actually tried three times. Luckily I’m not good at it,” Mulkey said

Mulkey didn’t see how things would get better.

“The feeling is just that of being worthless. Walking’s a big thing to get from here and there or even just to reach something up in a cabinet. To have to call your son or your kids to can you come get this for me,” Mulkey said.

Three years ago he decided to compete in adaptive sports and took his then 12 year old son to the wheelchair games in Utah.

“After the first day of being in Utah he come up to me and he goes, ‘Dad, I’m so glad we came here.’ And I go, What are you talking about? I said you was complaining about how hot it was because it was a scorcher, and he goes, ‘no’ he goes excuse me for this but it chokes me up every time, he says ‘I got my dad back.'”

Around 80 people showed up Saturday for the walk run.

The VA is hoping to raise $3,000 from the event.

If you would like to donate you can contact the hope for a hero Facebook page.