When the Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio began four years ago to promote the health and wellness of individuals with physical disabilities through sports, executive director Lisa Followay was faced with an unfortunate reality.
“When we started the organization, we didn’t get people banging down the door wanting our service,” she said. “It’s a very difficult thing, because there is just a lack of education as far as what adaptive sports are. So, it’s been a lot of hard work. … A lot of outreach and a lot of educating people with and without disabilities of what adaptive sports are, and then engaging them in ongoing programming.”
With that resiliency, the western Ohio-based organization affects approximately 100 disabled individuals across the state. That ever-growing number, along with the fact that the organization has survived for four years since its challenging start, makes Followay proud.
“It isn’t a bad first step,” she said. “So, I think we’re successful in the way we’re doing it.” On Sunday, the ASPO stopped by Youngstown State University. Inside the Watson and Tressel Training Site, Followay and her staff conducted a wheelchair track clinic for six participants.
“We had a couple people reach out to us from the area that are interested in adaptive sports,” Followay said. “One of our goals through the clinic that we’re doing this weekend is to see what the interest is in the Youngstown area to maybe start some programming there.”
During the clinic, the participants (ages ranging from young children to adult) were taught the basics of wheelchair track, including how to operate the three-wheeled “racing chair,” and participated in the sport on the indoor track.
“It depends on what their disability is, but there is a wide range of ability levels,” Followay said. “You can have someone who’s an amputee, or someone who has a low-functioning spinal cord injury. … It’s the equivalent of footed running.”
Wheelchair track is one of eight sports the ASPO offers. Others are archery, basketball, hockey, rugby, soccer, softball and swimming.
“Our vision is to reduce the barriers — the lack of equipment and opportunity — and get people engaged in activity and promote an overall healthy lifestyle socially, emotionally and physically,” Followay said. “All of those things are benefits they feel. And people with disabilities that engage in sports, it has a huge impact on their overall well-being.”
Followay said the ASPO is focused on expanding its services and affecting more disabled individuals.
“If there is already programming in a certain area, we won’t go in and create it because there’s just no point in duplicating services,” she said. “But what we want to do is find areas that are underdeveloped or lacking in programs and create them and get more people with disabilities active.”
A sign of the ASPO’s progress is seen in its recent involvements with the Ohio High School Athletic Association. The OHSAA recently created a wheelchair division at state track meets, allowing the disabled to officially contribute to their school’s team.
“We’ve been very involved in loaning equipment out across the state for both junior high and high school,” Followay said. “We train them how it works, and we work with them. It’s just really cool because they can actually be part of their school track team as a full-functioning member versus water boy or statistician.”
Followay said it’s relatively simple to make a difference.
“It only takes a couple people to call us and we’ll come and do a clinic and try to pull other people together,” Followay said. “We just want to get more people to help get something off the ground.”
For more information about the ASPO, visit its website at http://adaptivesportsohio.org.