City of Boulder EXPAND Event Showcases Paralympic Sport

March 24, 2009, 3:32 p.m. (ET)

BOULDER, Colo. - Christina Ripp, who earned gold medals in women's wheelchair basketball during the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics, told a group of injured service members and disabled residents from across Colorado on Saturday that sports aren't out of reach for them.

"This is just another piece of equipment that enables you to play," Ripp said of her wheelchair.

The Littleton resident was among several members of the U.S. Paralympic Team who spoke at a seminar held at the University of Colorado Student Recreation Center.

The event, which is typically only open to military veterans, was instead opened to the public for the first time and offered the chance to get hands-on experience with seven sports designed for people living with disabilities.

The elite athletes gave demonstrations on hand cycling, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair racing, power-chair soccer, judo and swimming.

"For me, it's important to get other people involved and to grow the sport," said Ripp, who was born with a defect in her spine. "Who doesn't want to be part of a team?"

The city of Boulder sponsored the event, which attracted about two dozen people of varying abilities from across the state. The Boulder Parks and Recreation Department used the showcase to enhance awareness for its spring EXPAND program, which offers activities and sports for people with disabilities.

Jen Heilveil, an EXPAND program coordinator, said the city has received a grant to purchase several specialized wheelchairs for people interested in learning rugby, basketball or cycling.

"We're giving them the confidence that no matter what the disability, we'll make it happen for them," Heilveil said.

The program is being aimed especially at returning military veterans with debilitating injuries, she said.

"I think it's important, especially for injured service members, to be involved in sports," Heilveil said. "It gets them back into life again."

Steve Taylor, 56, of Aurora, became disabled in 2004 while serving his third tour of duty in Iraq. He said the Boulder event drew him to check out wheelchair road racing.

"I still love biking," he said.

Curt Garrett, 49, of Thornton, came to the event to see the wheelchair rugby demonstration. He's been playing the sport for more than a decade, and said it's one way to help people with disabilities to be part of a team, and forget about the challenges they face.

"When I'm playing, I don't think about anything else -- not my job or that I have a disability," he said. "You just think about rugby."