RICHMOND, VA –
Kathy Tilbury brought home four gold medals after competing in the 2016 National Veterans’ Wheelchair Games June 26 – July 2 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She medaled in three swim events, the 100-meter backstroke, 100- and 200-meter freestyle, and Handle Ball bowling.
Tilbury is a retired Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class working on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, for Defense Logistics Agency Office of Operations Resource and Research Analysis as a program management/finance analyst.
While in the Navy, Tilbury worked as an aviation structural mechanic (egress) ensuring items such as aircraft canopies, ejection seats and oxygen systems were mission ready. She served for eight years, worked on A6 Intruder and P3 Orion aircraft, and deployed twice, once to Alaska and once to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean where she did several short deployments to Oman during Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield.
She medically retired from the Navy in 1997 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992. After completing her bachelor’s degree and a brief stint working for the insurance industry, she moved to Richmond and began working for DORRA in 2004.
When she was first diagnosed with MS, Tilbury said she was told not to overdue physical activity, so she wasn’t very active.
“I had always been competitive and participated on swim teams in my youth and I loved to dance, so hearing that I shouldn’t be physically active was tough,” she said. “I enjoy competing and my motto is you rest, you rust.” She said she was swimming one day in her mom’s retirement community and an older women threw that phrase at her in conversation and she never forgot it.
About five years ago, Tilbury said she was swimming in her sister’s pool and then decided to start swimming on a regular basis again. She also joined several “meetup” groups in the local area, and got involved with Sportable, which provides adaptive sports and recreation opportunities for people with physical and visual disabilities, or as Tilbury likes to say people who are “differently abled.”
Tilbury said she rows, hand-cycles and kayaks with the group and through the people she has met in the different groups she became aware of the veterans’ wheelchair games and the adaptive equipment she was eligible for through Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond.
In 2015, Tilbury medaled in the first wheelchair games she participated in. This year she said there were more than 600 athletes competing in Utah and she competed against five other women in her class in swimming.
She trains a couple times a week at the local YMCA and bowls weekly with a group of friends.
“Next year will mark my third competition, and I would like to add Hand Cycling and Air Rifle to the events I compete in,” she said. “My goal is to compete in swimming as a para-olympian in Tokyo, Japan in 2020, to meet it I will have to spend a lot more time in the pool.”
Tilbury said she refused to let her MS limit her or make her give up. “Fatigue is a big problem and resiliency is a way of life, but I’ve very competitive and I enjoy it. I keep a busy schedule and catch up on sleep on the weekends.”
Tilbury encourages all who are “differently abled” to explore the potential to participate in sports activities through the wheelchair games and groups such as Sportable.