Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Cooler serving Veterans
Joe Cooler flashes a warm smile and speaks with a passionate energy when he talks about his goals.
"I want to give back," says the 54-year-old Navy Veteran from Hampton, South Carolina. "I want to encourage other Veterans to get out instead of staying home."
In 1998, at 30 years old, Cooler was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a condition that leads to the deterioration of central vision.
"When I was diagnosed I cried about it. I thought my life was over," Cooler says. "But I told myself 'this is God's will. I could be worse off.' Just because you have a disability the world doesn't end."
Cooler is one of more than 400 Veterans attending the 2016 National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo. It is his second year attending the event and he's excited to be skiing again.
"It felt great going down the mountain. I had two really good instructors, they pushed me and encouraged me and they were right there."
Cooler says his father was his inspiration and credits him with influencing his passion for helping others.
"My father had a disability. They'd make fun of him and give him the dirty work, but he did it because he had a family to take care of," he said. "Now, the things he didn't have, I have a chance to do."
Cooler continues to find opportunities to improve his rehabilitation. He has attended multiple blindness training sessions at VA's blind rehabilitation center in West Palm Beach, Fla. He is an active member of the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and attends events regularly. He participates in a teleconference support group, and has spoken at the Bronx VA and Visions Center on Blindness in upstate New York about the benefits of adaptive sports and service animals.
He has also applied to VA's 2016 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, and is excited to be turning 55, so he can apply to the National Veterans Golden Age Games.
"All the training I get I take it honestly and seriously," he says.
Cooler said he wants to keep helping Veterans whenever and wherever he can.
Never give up. If you ever come to one event, you will see, you can do these things."
To learn more about the VA National Games visit: http://www.va.gov/adaptivesports/. If you are a Charleston VAMC patient interested in participating in the VA National Games contact 843-789-6510.