Paintball fields are uneven, muddy, and full of tripping hazards, meaning those in wheelchairs or with prosthetic may not be able to maneuver around them. A new, and free to use, paintball field dedicated to disabled or mobility impaired veterans changed that.
It looks like a paintball field to some, but if you take a closer look you’ll see a field ready to serve those who served our country.
"A lot of times veterans will bring out their children and they sit and watch from a wheelchair or prosthetic and I can just see it in their eyes that they just wish they could be out there playing," David Biddle, owner of Gladiator Paintball, said.
His fields are located on Camp San Luis Obispo, adding to the military influence of Biddle’s design, but it was the chance to give veterans the chance to join back in the fun that fueled the new Freedom Field.
"Lot of them maybe have not picked up a gun since then and to be able to come out here and see that you can run around and have fun and it’s not all about fighting a real war," Biddle explained.
His new field is covered in AstroTurf, with the ground underneath packed down hard to make an even surface. Instead of old cars and old buildings as areas to take cover, multi-shaped inflatables act as safe bunkers. For those in wheelchairs, volunteers will even act as "motors," as Biddle says, pushing players around the field.
The disabled veterans using the Freedom Field say they are thankful for the experience. "Fun, experiencing it is exercising it was a lot of fun," John Houdshell said, having finished his paintball wars.
Houdshell served in the US Army, and says as a disabled veteran it wasn’t always easy finding opportunities like a dedicated paintball field once discharged.
"Rough. There wasn’t a lot. When I got out there wasn’t a lot of stuff out there for us. It’s nice to see that the community is thinking of the veterans, having something for us to come out to," Houdshell said.
Even for able-bodied veterans like David Lopez, who served 20 years of active duty in the US Army, being on the Freedom Field was a comfort.
"It brings back memories. I’m 53 now and when I was younger, you know, training and doing stuff. This kind of reminded me of that," Lopez said motioning towards the field.
Lopez said despite treating the paintball gun as he would a real gun, firing off the brightly colored balls didn’t bring back any negative feelings. "I felt very safe right here especially being invited right here on the base of Camp San Luis yeah very much at home right here."
The field will also be open to Special Olympians. Biddle hopes to sponsor local Special Olympics teams to give them a chance to take part in the fun, and he hopes someday it may even be a sport included in the Special Olympics competitions.
The Freedom Field is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. To 4 p.m. and is free to veterans. To find out more about how to reserve your round of paintball, click here.