Sometimes all a person needs to feel good about themselves is to be a part of a team and have the coach tell them they did well. But for someone with a disability, it can be a bit of a hurdle to achieve.
The Valley Children’s Hospital Adaptive Sports program exists for this very reason. The program gives individuals with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the sports and activities that would normally be considered off-limits.
“We want to provide opportunities for kids with disabilities to learn about different sports and to participate,” said Adaptive Sports coordinator Alexis Newlin. “We put on different team sports throughout the community for kids with disabilities. We also have a mentor program for adults with disabilities who would like to come and participate and mentor and encourage the kids in the community.”
The Adaptive Sports program offers several different sports for people of all ages and encourages individuals with disabilities to try out.
“Because they have a disability, they might say that they can’t participate in any sports like, ‘I can’t try rock climbing.’ We provide the means so they can go and have these experiences,” said Newlin. “The first thing the program did was a water ski clinic with a couple of kids. Now it has grown and we do adaptive tennis, adaptive water skiing, adaptive rock climbing, sled hockey. We do lots of adaptive sports throughout the Central Valley — and it’s all free.”
Every Tuesday evening, for example, is wheelchair basketball practice at the Clovis Recreation Center for the Fresno Wheelers.
“The basketball program has been going on for about two years,” said Newlin. “We get new kids all the time because kids hear about it from their friends or their physical or occupational therapist and they’ll show up.”
When 13-year-old Ally Woodyatt heard about the program, she said she automatically wanted to be a part of it.
“I thought it would be fun to try wheelchair basketball and have that experience,” said Woodyatt. “I really enjoy it because I have a passion for basketball. And before I was paralyzed, I used to play basketball.”
Woodyatt said she was paralyzed four years ago as a result of a rare disease, but has gotten a lot better since.
The Adaptive Sports program is also host to several older people who serve as mentors to new participants.
David Moreno, 20, heard about the program while hospitalized from an accident 21/2 years ago.
“I heard about it and they told me there were a bunch of sports. The first sport I went to try out was sled hockey,” said Moreno who is now a team captain for the Wheelers. “I thought it would be a good way to stay active and help out others, like younger kids and other people with disabilities.”
Moreno said he likes being a role model for the team and thinks the Adaptive Sports program is a great opportunity for people with disabilities.
“Being disabled, you would think that there are not many sports out there to play, but there really is. It’s just a different way you have to do it. You have to adapt to a new way of playing,” said Moreno. “This is a very good program. This program helps out a lot of people, a lot of kids and really brings their spirits up. It makes them smile, laugh and enjoy their day.”
For others, the Adaptive Sports program is a place to meet new people and get healthy all in one.
“I started here because the doctor recommended this as a workout for my health. And I have been doing this for a couple of months now, it’s pretty good,” said 26-year-old Chris Bland. “I enjoy hanging out with new friends and helping other kids. The program actually helps hospital kids and I get to help them because I’m older. But we’re in this together.”
Bland could only express gratitude for having joined the Wheelers through the Adaptive Sports program and wished more people knew about it.
“I would say that, for me, this program is the best thing that could happen. And if you want to make friends, this is the place to do it,” said Bland. “Everybody should have the chance to see how people with disabilities develop themselves with sports. And they should give us more support because this is something we can enjoy”
Fresno Wheelers coach Neal Howard said the program is good for developing different sets of skills that ultimately make for better people.
“We try and teach them wheelchair skills and basketball skills like shooting, passing and dribbling. It’s a little bit different than being able-bodied,” said Howard. “We also teach them team skills — being a good teammate.”
Howard said this is a great way for these kids to come together and be a part of something that they would otherwise not be able to participate in.
“So if you have any curiosity about what it is, come to our practices,” Howard said. “If you want to get in the chair, we’d be more than happy to stick you in a chair and see how you roll.”