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Sports for Everyone

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Adaptive Sports

By Brian Summerfield

Spreading the Word

None of the challenges to implementing and maintaining adaptive sports programs are insurmountable. Education and awareness for the general population—and particularly among other athletes and those who administer athletics programs and facilities—are important tools for overcoming these obstacles, Clark said.

"The potential is unlimited," she said. "It's just the focus hasn't been there. Once people understand how to do it, then it evolves and is sustained."

In this respect, institutions such as the Paralympics and the Wounded Warriors Project have been invaluable. "Wounded Warriors has really worked out well, because it's really put the whole [adaptive sports] concept out there in the public," Clark said. "Sports is one of the things that has really helped with their rehab."

Another key aspect of growing an adaptive sports program is marketing existing offerings for that specific group, Nowak said. To that end, the VA's website (www.va.gov/adaptivesports) provides a list of locations that offer sports therapy activities specifically targeted for veterans.

"You need to get the word out. Disabled athletes are always looking for opportunities, because there aren't a lot of opportunities for us," Nowak said.

Also, Clark recommends reaching out to physical rehabilitation centers and hospitals. "Tell them you have a program and that you'd like to work with them," she said. "With that connection comes the specialist. Most of the time, they embrace getting their patients out into a social environment."

Finding New and Existing Resources

Special training and equipment are required for many adaptive sports programs, but not all of them. Nowak recommended starting with the question: "What do I have that would work right now?" Basketball, swimming and weightlifting are examples of sports that require minimal—if any—additional accessories for most disabled participants. They're also commonly found in recreational and athletics facilities.

For specialized equipment and training needed in specific sports, you should research which organizations exist to facilitate participation for people with disabilities in those activities. Sometimes these will be associations devoted specifically to disabled athletes, and sometimes it will be well-known institutions within the sport itself. For example, in addition to Clark's organization, the PGA and LPGA offer resources for mentally and physically challenged athletes who want to play golf.

Whatever you do, don't feel like you have to build up a new program from scratch.

"Don't reinvent the wheel," Whitney advised. "Partner with an organization that already exists that may have the equipment and have the assets trained. Use community programs that exist and piggyback on them. Bring the experience into your facility."

Most of the time, these institutions will be more than happy to help you get a new adaptive sports program off the ground.

"If you're working with veterans, we're here to help you," Nowak said. "We will do whatever we can to help veterans in your communities get engaged with sports. If you're having trouble finding resources, let us know."

"We open our arms to people who have the heart, passion and drive, and we train them," Whitney said. "Then we send them off to other organizations to get certified."