Biweekly, USParalympics.org will spotlight one of the Paralympic Sport Clubs making a difference in the Paralympic Movement. Created in 2007 by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, the community based Paralympic Sport Club program involves youth and adults with physical and visual disabilities in physical activity and sports in their community, regardless of skill level. The program currently has 183 active Paralympic Sport Clubs in 46 states and Washington, D.C. To find Paralympic Sport Clubs and other adaptive, disabled and Paralympic sport opportunities in your community, visit the Paralympic Resource Network.
It started as an alpine ski club in the mountains of Maine.
Today, Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, once known as Maine Handicapped Skiing for 30 years, is making every aspect of the great outdoors available to Mainers with physical disabilities and visual impairments.
“We get people out to exercise in this killer Maine environment,” said Peter Adams, executive director for Maine Adaptive. “It’s a wonderful outdoor playground. Everyone who lives here should be playing in it. We enable people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy everything that our beautiful state offers.”
Cycling is one of the most popular programs offered by Maine Adaptive.
Maine Adaptive, a Paralympic Sport Club, serves 400 athletes with programming in Paralympic and non-Paralympic sports including cycling, fly fishing, golf, paddling, Nordic skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.
Before the organization expanded to offer both summer and winter sports, it specialized in alpine skiing, which is still its most successful program.
Lindsay Ball, a visually impaired skier who competes with the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing Team, trains with the club as she tries to qualify for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. She joined Maine Adaptive at age 6.
“We’re so proud of what they have accomplished so far and what they will accomplish in Russia,” Adams said.
While Ball is competing this week in Australia at an International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup, others at Maine Adaptive are looking forward to starting their first ski season this year.
By offering all different levels of activity, Adams says a “learning environment” is created.
“It is important for our students to see someone like Lindsay succeeding at such a high level,” Adams said. “Having the full spectrum of ability, kids who are just starting all the way up to U.S. Paralympians, is a positive thing for everybody. It demonstrates how people can achieve things they may have thought were impossible.”
While Ball serves as a great role model, many people involved with the programming overcome adversity.
Last week, the program hosted its ninth Veteran No Boundaries program, which provides adaptive sports opportunities to disabled U.S. military veterans.
“Over the past few years, our country has become extremely aware of how many people come back from war with severe injuries that permanently impact their daily lives,” Adams said. “Thankfully, there is recognition in our country that we have a debt to pay to our veterans because of what they have given up for us. Veteran No Boundaries is just one way to show appreciation for our military.”
This summer, participants did everything from cycling to zip lining.
“We had a guy this year who had been injured by a roadside bomb,” Adams said. “He had 14 surgeries to his left leg before he lost it just above the knee. When we started zip lining, he gave it a look and decided he wanted to do it but didn’t want to go up with his prosthetic. With his arms and his one leg, he went up the ladder and pegs, onto the platform and then off he went. He wasn’t sure he would be able to climb that high but he was determined to do it.
“He went down that zip line and immediately, another veteran who was afraid of water, who had no intention of dealing with that zip line, changed his mind. Peer pressure in the military can be a really positive thing. If Brian could do what he did, this guy had to do it too. He did it and was thinking, ‘Wow. Never in a million years did I think that I could do this. What else can I do now?’ That’s the powerful thing.”
This year, a record number of veterans and guests were hosted over four days.
“We encourage and accommodate family members,” Adams said. “We had 25 vets, a high for our summer program, and about 40 family members including spouses and children. When veterans get hurt, their families get hurt too, and we see Veterans No Boundaries as a part of the healing process for everyone. Having family members here is really critical to helping everyone move forward.
“A lot of family members see their loved one at a really low point in their lives. They come here to Veterans No Boundaries and they see their loved ones at such a high point. Spouses experience that triumph and joy when their husband or wife is doing something they never thought they could do. Kids come here and they do that thing with their dad or mom that they never thought they would get to do again. That is what’s special about what we do every day here, whether it’s this program or alpine skiing, or snowshoeing, or whatever it may be. We change lives with something so simple.”
Lives have been so impacted by Veterans No Boundaries that some participants reach deep into their pockets to support the non-profit, which provides all of its programming at no cost.
“One of the neat things that happens with our programs is that people who could afford to pay a fee often find a way to get money to us, even though we never ask them for it,” Adams said. “A group of people with brain injuries so generously donated $800 to our program this year. They came out and presented us with a big check in front of everyone in the Veterans No Boundaries program. One of the veterans then donated $800 of his own money after the camp. When it was all over, we had collected a couple thousand dollars, because the program meant that much to people.”
Maine Adaptive spends about $400 for each participant in the Veterans No Boundaries program, which is held once in the winter and again the summer.
The programs can be offered for free because of Adaptive Maine’s army of 400 volunteers.
“Some give a few hours, some give lots of days,” said Adams, one of six full-time staff members. “Some have been with us for a few months but some have been volunteering with us for 20 or 25 years, which is pretty incredible. Our volunteers give so much of their time and their expertise to the program. It’s a huge organizational strength to have so many people who are passionate about what we do and willing to support our mission.”
The mission is to “find ways to enable people with disabilities to participate in outdoor sports and activities.”
In the future, Maine Adaptive hopes to expand its offerings, but is most concerned with availability.
“We’d like to connect with the people who are too to come to our programs right now,” Adams said. “I am talking to programs that do wonderful things here in the more remote parts of Maine to see if they can help with satellite programs of ours. We want to get to those individuals who are isolated from the more populated parts of Maine.”
Adams thinks that it will not be long before Maine Adaptive expands to remote areas.
“The program sells itself,” he said. “If I can get someone to come see us in action, they’ll want to be a part of it.”
Adams cannot imagine his life without it.
He says the organization restores his “faith in humanity”.
“It gives me a fuller appreciation of how wonderful people can be to one another,” Adams said. “Day in and day out, the news can be discouraging. You turn on the TV and see fear, greed and all of the negative human qualities. What I see every day in my program is people opening up to one another, trusting each other. I see people effecting each other in positive ways. I see people showing other people how to accomplish feats they didn’t think we’re possible. “
“I draw a tremendous amount of energy, hope and joy from seeing that,” he said. “I feel that at the end of the day, I no longer see someone as having a disability. I see everyone the same because we’re all in this together. We will eliminate the obstacles together. Really, it is such an incredible thing. It’s great to be a part of this.”