By Roger McKinney
NEOSHO, Mo. —
Glenn Isaac Fretz served his country as a soldier in Operation Desert Storm, the first Iraq War.
He was injured there, sustaining a spinal chord injury. A subsequent car wreck left him in a wheelchair, his legs and lower body paralyzed.
Since 2002, the Army veteran has had a new mission. It began with a national wheelchair games competition in Cleveland that year and has continued nonstop since then.
“It gives me a chance to represent the fallen and to be a mentor to the newly injured,” Fretz said of his reasons for competing. “It keeps people alive in my heart who are no longer here.”
He is training now to compete July 13-18 in the National Veterans’ Wheelchair Games in Tampa, Fla. The largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world, it is presented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
The 43-year-old veteran lives in rural Neosho and is a graduate of Neosho High School. His parents still live in Neosho. While in the Army, he earned the Army Service Ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal.
The American Legion Auxiliary No. 163 in Neosho is raising money to help Fretz with his travel expenses and to pay for his hotel room and meals while in Florida.
Fretz said he will compete in basketball, bowling, hand cycling and wheelchair softball. He said he has won gold medals in softball and basketball and a silver medal in hand cycling.
“Bowling, I’m trying to get better at,” Fretz said. He said he competes because his dad is a bowler.
His training regimen includes three hours on Monday and Thursday nights at the Freeman Family YMCA in Neosho. There, he does tricep extensions, bicep curls, lap pull-downs and other exercises that help build his endurance. He also spends time there shooting hoops.
Other days, he does three to six miles of road work in his wheelchair in Bicentennial Conservation Area.
Fretz competed in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on April 28, just a week after the Boston Marathon and tragic bombing there. He came in first among wheelchair marathoners, with a time of 2:40:01, more than 90 minutes ahead of the second-place wheelchair athlete.
Last year, Fretz participated in the Long Road Home Project. He hand-cycled 4,200 miles across the country, stopping at military bases along the way.
Fretz said he wants to deliver a message to those with physical disabilities, and those with none.
“Let our abilities define who we are, not our disabilities,” he said. “Anybody with a physical disability can make a difference.”
To donate to help defer travel, housing and food costs for Glenn Fretz while he competes at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa, Fla., people may send checks payable to American Legion Auxiliary No. 163 to P.O. Box 63, Neosho, Mo., 64850. Include a note on the check “Support Glenn Isaac Fretz.”