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.
Sometimes something that turns out to be really a big deal can start off with a small idea. Take the wheelchair curling team at the Cape Cod Curling Club (Paralympic Sport Cape Cod) as an example.
A building-remodeling project grew to include wheelchair access, then that grew to include better building and ice access. From there Tony Colacchio’s vision was just beginning, and while things have progressed immensely in a short time, Colacchio is far from done.
This story starts with Colacchio, who was driven by the memory of his cousin, who had used a wheelchair and died at the age of 10 when Colacchio was just a teenager. Colacchio wanted to do something to help make a difference in the lives of people in wheelchairs, and the opportunity arose when the Cape Cod Curling Club underwent a renovation nearly eight years ago.
By law, the club had to include a wheelchair-accessible ramp into the building and an accessible bathroom. Colacchio wanted more, and he was determined to make it happen.
As a member of the building committee, Colacchio wanted to use the opportunity to introduce wheelchair curling to the club and the community — and he wanted people to be able to get their wheelchairs to the ice.
That would take some convincing.
“The renovation project was already going to cost $470,000, and the club did not want to go into debt,” Colacchio said. “It was going to cost 15 to 20 grand for an enclosed ramp, and the board hit the panic button because there was trouble financing the expansion as it was.”
Undaunted, Colacchio helped organize three years of golf tournaments, raising $19,000. Then, with the help of Cape Cod Curling Club member John McCarty, the ramp became a reality, and anyone who came to the club had access to the ice.
Colacchio’s efforts at making the ramp a reality are only part of the story. The ramp led to charity events, and those events led to the formation of the CCCC wheelchair team, now five members strong, which Colacchio believes represents the most wheelchair curlers in one location in the country.
Not only does Cape Cod Curling Club, designated a Paralympic Sport Club by U.S. Paralympics, boast the most wheelchair curlers in one locale, but also it has some of the best. When the United States sends teams to the 2013 World Wheelchair Curling Championships in February to Sochi, Russia (the host of the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games), two members of the Cape Cod Curling Club will be on board on the flight. Both Meghan Lino and David Palmer made the team.
Lino, a first-time national team member, is a great example of what Colacchio and the Cape Cod Curling Club are trying to accomplish with their wheelchair curling program. Palmer is on the U.S. national team for the second time.
Lino came to the sport through a fundraiser at the club in 2009 designed to generate interest in curling. Now she is a shining example of the power of sports and the difference getting involved can make to a person with a disability.
“I’ve made so many friends through the sport of curling and done things with the new friends I have made outside of curling as well,” Lino said. “It has really opened up my life in so many ways and made so many new things possible.”
Among those things made possible is travel to different parts of the world and a spot on a U.S. national team.
“If someone would have told me when I started I would be on the national team I would have said they were crazy,” Lino said. “Just after we formed the team we had done a few competitions and we got to meet the prior U.S. team and Tony said, ‘That’s going to be you guys.’
“I thought he was crazy. It was a dream and I thought it would be amazing to represent my country in a sport, that’s everyone’s dream that is in sports, to represent your country in an Olympic event. It’s mind-blowing.”
Colacchio’s vision turned out just as he had hoped. Now as coach of the club’s wheelchair curling team, you might think he would be ready to sit back and relish the accomplishment, but Colacchio is still hard at work. Before traveling to Russia with Lino and Palmer, he will be heading to Connecticut for an open house exhibition of wheelchair curling hoping to generate interest.
Other events are also in the works to get the sport exposure and get more wheels on the ice.
“In July we hosted a Paralympic Experience and we picked up one new member, and what I really want to do is grow the sport, get the word out there,” Colacchio said. “Hopefully with some of the attention we are getting we can get an audience and spread the word of wheelchair curling around the country.”