6 Pioneering Advocates For Athletes With Disabilities
There are many fantastic organizations operating on the belief that everyone should be able to participate in sports, regardless of any physical limitations they may face. These advocates work tirelessly to provide opportunities to kids and adults of all skill levels to take part in athletic events and competitions. In no particular order, here are some people and groups offering the fun and camaraderie of sports to those with disabilities.
Starting things off at #1 is Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham, an athlete and public speaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Fotheringham was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord, which resulted in his having no use of his legs. However, he never let it stop him, and at age 8, he started going to skate parks with his brother and competing in BMX Freestyle competitions. He's had the opportunity to perform with Nitro Circus and been a part of the World Acrobatics Society, as well as working with WCMX International, which aims to bring wheelchair motocross to the masses.
After videos of his flips went viral, Aaron has had the chance to travel globally, both performing and speaking, showing young kids with disabilities that a wheelchair can be a tool, not a restriction. His goal is to change the world's perception of people in wheelchairs and to help everyone see their own challenges in a new way. He's been featured in People magazine, and was in the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
At #2 is KEEN of the Greater DC and Baltimore area. With a name that stands for Kids Enjoy Exercise now, it was founded in 1992 with the goal of fostering confidence, self-esteem and community inclusion for youth with disabilities, strengthening communities through volunteer education, and providing families with respite and a supportive network. The organization pairs a trained volunteer coach with a young person with disabilities and lets them discover what they can accomplish together.
Starting with a single program, KEEN has grown to offer more than 1,300 program hours each month to over 500 children, teens and young adults with significant developmental and physical disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Children are able to improve their developmental and social skills through physical activity, and given a place where they can feel accepted. Offerings include swimming, music, bowling, yoga, and sports like basketball or soccer, as well as family sports days and fitness sessions for adults.
Coming in at #3 is Dare2tri, a not-for-profit organization based in Illinois with the mission of enhancing the lives of individuals with physical disabilities and visual impairments by building confidence, community, health, and wellness through swimming, biking, and running. The group works with individuals at all ability levels from beginner to elite, including youth, adults, and injured service members who have a physical disability such as amputation, spinal cord injury, stroke, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and those with visual impairments and blindness.
Founded in 2011, Dare2tri serves hundreds of athletes each year. Offerings include camps and clinics focused on all aspects of triathlons where participants can meet like-minded individuals and receive high-level, individualized coaching. There is also an Elite Team, whose members compete alongside the world's top paratriathletes at national and international racing events, as well as a Development Team, whose members compete at events throughout the country and can receive grant funding, mentoring, and other resources.
In the #4 spot is Move United. The result of a merger between Disabled Sports USA and Adaptive Sports USA, Move United brings recreational and competitive adaptive sports together for the first time, offering leagues and events like the USA Wheelchair Football League and the Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado. The goal is to ensure that 90% of the U.S. population is within a short drive of one of the group's local programs by 2028, when the Olympics and Paralympics return to the U.S.
Move United has more than 140 chapters across the country that offer thousands of programs in dozens of different sports for over 60,000 youth and adults with disabilities. This includes everything from swimming, basketball, and golf to action sports and extreme activities like skydiving. The United Warfighters program offers participation to severely wounded warriors free of cost. Donations help support local chapters with education, insurance, and support for athletes and their families.
At #5 is the Kyle Pease Foundation, which works to create awareness and raise funds to promote success for persons with disabilities by providing assistance to meet their individual needs through sports. The foundation was founded in 2011 by brothers Kyle & Brent Pease upon completion of their first triathlon, and provides direct assistance to persons with disabilities who need adaptive sports equipment, mobility devices or medical care, in addition to partnering with other non-profit organizations.
The Kyle Pease Foundation is supported by some of the biggest names in endurance sports, and aids athletes in a variety of ways, including scholarship opportunities, purchasing of medical equipment or adaptive sports equipment, and participating in educational campaigns to create awareness about Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, the foundation takes part in events throughout the country. The Pease Brothers also perform speaking engagements where they touch upon their bond and experiences with racing.
Rounding out the list at #6 is Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, which promotes year-round education and training for individuals with disabilities in order to develop skills, enhance independence, and provide enjoyment through active recreation. Founded in 1982, the organization is now the largest year-round provider of adaptive programs in the state of Maine for adults and children with disabilities, with hundreds of volunteers providing thousands of lessons annually, including skiing, golf, tennis, rock climbing, and cycling.
Maine Adaptive believes having access to and participating in recreational sports is integral to a well-rounded life for every person, as it can foster a sense of pride, confidence, and self-esteem that carries into athletes' everyday lives. The organization also believes that reasonable risk-taking empowers athletes to overcome perceived limitations and boundaries, and that an inability to pay shouldn't prevent them from participating, which is why volunteer helpers are such a big part of their work. Those interested in volunteering or donating can request more info at the group's website.