Tagged with: accessible athletes awareness Cerebral Palsy children disability exercise health inclusion kids life Physical Activity recreation sport wheelchair
On April 17-18, we hosted an event at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, that we call Ability Olympics with the mission of showing how everyone can be an athlete. I work with Dr. Tom Moran on this event (he does weekly programming for youth with disabilities to stay physically active), and our goal has been simple: provide sport opportunities to people with disabilities because we did not have those opportunities growing up.
Both Dr. Moran and I have cerebral palsy. I teach and research in sport management. He teaches and researches in adapted physical education. Thus, Ability Olympics has turned into a natural event for us to plan. He has experience planning physical activities for people of all abilities, and I can make sure we market it, manage food, and address volunteer logistics.
We hosted Ability Olympics last year at JMU and had 45 participants, which we considered a major victory.
At this year’s event, more than 150 youth converged onto campus for the two-day, free event. Most participants had a disability. Some, however, did not. We encouraged participants who signed up to also bring a sibling or friend.
The young athletes participated in 13 different sports that culminated with a closing ceremony speech by Lauren Darensbourg from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and each athlete awarded an Ability Olympics medal.
Friday, April 17 was a social event for the athletes, allowing them to participate in contests around JMU’s Convocation Center, enjoy a dance party, and socialize with each other and their JMU student mentor for the weekend. These types of social events to kick off the sport activities are tremendous for enhancing the comfort level of both the participants and the college student volunteers, some of whom have never been exposed to disability this closely
Saturday, April 18 was a day of sport at Godwin Gym as the athletes took part in sports such as swimming, soccer, golf, gymnastics, tennis, and other events to both learn skills and showcase their abilities in front of their peers and parents. One highlight of the day was when the JMU men’s soccer team welcomed the athletes, participated in the opening ceremony, and then assisted with the soccer stations for the morning hours.
More than 230 JMU students volunteered over the two-day event.
The event was a success overall, but one lasting memory may haunt me forever. When I walked into Friday night’s social event, I immediately began talking with parents around the facility as they watched their son or daughter socialize with others and play games around the arena’s concourse. I simply introduced myself and thanked them for coming. The immediate response I received will not leave me.
“Thank you. We don’t have anything like this where we live.”
The first four families I spoke to each told me that, and it bothered me. Sure, it was an ego boost for Dr. Moran and me to know something is right about this event. But in the big picture, it comes down to this: There must be more of this.
More sport. More events. More training. More time devoted to disability sport. More opportunities. More inclusion. There must be more.
After the event concluded, Dr. Moran and I shared stories like these that we encountered and realized that a major challenge lies before us. We celebrated a successful weekend but knew that the bar has been raised higher. We all must do more.
Join the JMU Adapted Sport movement on Twitter at @JMUAdaptedSport and on Facebook at James Madison Adapted Sport.