Special Needs: Equal opportunity sporting

Kids who are differently abled play, recreate and connect through adaptive sports camps and programs

Adaptive Adventures

For the able-bodied youth population, access to outdoor activity can occur with little to no financial cost. Kids can run, hike and swim without the need for expensive equipment, resources and staff. They engage in physical education programs through their schools and many play games like soccer and basketball in both unstructured and team environments. For the physically disabled youth population, though, while access to these activities is possible, it often comes with the need for expensive gear, which can leave many without the opportunity to enjoy the active lifestyles more readily available to their able-bodied peers. Camps and programs for physically disabled youth help bridge the gap between sporting experiences and the expensive equipment needed to participate in those activities.

“The underlying foundation for Adaptive Adventures is that activity is good for everybody,” says David Schmid, regional director of Western programs for Adaptive Adventures, a Boulder-based nonprofit that has provided physical activity opportunities for more than 1,000 youth over the last 10 years through its year-round Stars of Tomorrow (STARS) camps. “However, there is a piece of that which is even more important for the disabled community because it affects so many more aspects of their lives.”

Schmid explains that many public physical education programs are without the budget to provide the equipment and staff needed for disabled kids to participate in many activities and, because of the lack of resources, many of these kids are left sitting on the sidelines. He also notes that the cost of a low-end handcycle starts at $2,000.

“This is where camps like ours are so important,” says Schmid. “Where else can you get 25 handcycles and numerous other pieces of adaptive equipment? Access to this type of equipment may be the first time a participant may actually feel like they can be active.”

For many physically disabled kids, camps are an “entry point” for them to gain the skills and love of a sport and then make that sport part of their lifestyle rather than something they do once or twice a year, says Joel Berman, Adaptive Adventure’s executive director. “Camps are great, but access to these sports once or twice a year is not equal opportunity,” Berman says. The vision of Adaptive Adventures is to ensure that every person, regardless of their ability, has an equal opportunity to participate in sports and recreation in their community, he says. “At camp, a kid may learn that he or she loves to kayak and then start going on the weekly Tuesday Paddle and Ride.”

Another goal of Adaptive Adventures is to develop strong and efficient partnerships with similar organizations and programs, such as the Exciting Programs Adventures and New Dimensions (EXPAND) program run by the City of Boulder’s Parks and Recreation and the annual Wheelchair Sports Camp, an Aurora-based, weeklong day camp that will celebrate its 30th year in June. Partnering with these groups and others allows for shared resources and increases access to physical activities and opportunities.

EXPAND provides year-round programs for both youth and adults with disabilities to participate in skiing, basketball, track, softball, swimming, gymnastics, bocce ball, bowling, floor hockey and volleyball. Their inclusive approach creates opportunities for people with disabilities to engage in recreational activities with people without. EXPAND also offers inclusion support for any kid with any disability for all camps and programs, says Jennifer Heilveil, program coordinator.

“These camps and programs provide opportunities for kids of all ages — beginners, intermediate and advanced levels — to get access to good, healthy, outdoor activity with an adventure twist,” says Schmid. “This allows for freedom, to be and feel successful, and then incorporate all this good stuff into their day-to-day existence.”


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