Team USA's Steve Cash, one of the top sled hockey goalies in the world, came from The Disabled Athlete Sports Foundation - Paralympic Sport St. Louis.
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.
When Kelly Behlmann, a physical therapist, founded The Disabled Athlete Sports Foundation – Paralympic Sport St. Louis, in May 1997, her was goal to create an organization that would provide athletic and fitness opportunities to children with physical and visual disabilities. With no organization like that to be found at the time, Behlmann seized the opportunity to start one, and DASA was born.
“In the clinic we were always working on what was broken instead of enhancing and growing the abilities the kids already had,” Behlmann said. “So I decided to start a non-profit and DASA was started.”
DASA works year round with athletes in a variety of programs. As Behlmann said, “We don't say no to anything,” so you’ll see DASA athletes swimming, playing sled hockey, track and field, soccer. You name it, and there’s a great chance DASA does it. And if they don’t, they will help a disabled athlete find a way and a place to participate.
What began with five people playing wheelchair basketball in Behlmann’s driveway has grown into an organization that serves more than 400 athletes, among them are Steve Cash and Ryan Duemler.
Cash competed in the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games and Team USA earned the bronze medal. Four years later, he recorded five consecutive shutouts, leading Team USA to the gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. Duemler, meanwhile, is a swimmer with his sights set on the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games.
Cash, from Overland, Mo., was introduced to sled hockey in 2003 through DASA’s Junior Blues Sled Hockey Program. Duemler got his start with DASA playing a variety or sports and is now in training in Colorado Springs.
“Ryan’s story is really exciting and a true result of what DASA was founded for,” Behlmann said. “He became inspired, working hard on his own, got good grades and was a good student and now he has taken it all the way to Colorado Springs.”
The successes of DASA, including those of Cash and Duemler, have resulted in a relationship with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which sees DASA as an intricate part of spreading the word of Olympic driven sports for people with disabilities. DASA will host Paralympic Academies in the future and, with the help of the USOC, DASA will have Olympic and Paralympic athletes and coaches available at these academies to offer sport opportunities to children and adults of all abilities.
The main goal Behlmann has for DASA is creating a positive effect on anyone involved with the organization.
“Growing up in sports and fitness, I know how it made me feel good physically and psychologically as well,” Behlmann said. “DASA can bring more positives to everybody’s life and leave us all inspired to do better with what we have.”
People from all over Missouri and southern Illinois turn to DASA for teams, events and programs. Behlmann and DASA are there for every request, since there is no other multi-sport Paralympic Sport Club in the area. Serving so many people from such a wide area has DASA looking to expand its presence.
“One of our longer term goals is to expand and have more DASA offices all over the state,” Behlmann said. “We have the main DASA unit in St. Charles County and would love to have little DASA's all over the state to better service rural areas and southern Missouri.”
“Day to day I want anyone we come across with different abilities to have the best expectation of their abilities,” Behlmann said. “I want them to be encouraged and inspired, to advocate for themselves. It’s not about what’s broken or needs to be fixed.”