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.
Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association is one of the leaders in adaptive sport programming in Southern California.
If it seems like just last week that San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation held that role, it is because the organization recently announced a rebranding effort, including a name change, which will enable it to reach outside San Diego.
Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association, a Paralympic Sport Club that started as San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation in 2006, took the direction from Deloitte, which provided consulting to the organization through its partnership with the United States Olympic Committee.
“As a Paralympic Sport Club, we received a grant that allowed Deloitte to come out to San Diego in November,” said Jon Richards, the executive director of ASRA. “Changing our name to simplify what we do and to broaden our reach was one of their recommendations. San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation limited us to just San Diego. We want to serve more than San Diego. We don’t want any limitations.”
The name change and rebranded materials, including a logo and website, were revealed to the public for the first time in May. “Today was the first time we really used the new name in everything we did,” Richards said Thursday.
San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation, in name, may be no more but the programming continues.
“We branched off from City of San Diego Parks and Recreation in 2006,” Richards said. “We have continued to work with them on some programming but we also took some of the programming, which was a happy decision for everyone. One of the things that we took was the wheelchair sports camp.”
The ASRA Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp is now in its 27th year. Each summer, children ages 4-18 attend the five-day adaptive sports camp, which enables them to grow mentally and socially as they learn fundamentals of 17 adaptive sports. Sports include archery, lacrosse, outrigger canoeing, sailing, swimming and wheelchair basketball.
“Our campers come from all over the country – Arizona, Texas, Nevada, New York, Idaho,” Richards said. “We get people from all over who plan their summer around our camp. We even have a camper from Mexico. His family drives three hours to participate in our programming. It is not just San Diego kids.”
It takes more than 200 volunteers to put on the sports camp.
He estimates that nearly 500 volunteers are needed to run ASRA programs each year.
“We have one full-time staff member and two part-time staff members working with 500-plus volunteers,” Richards said. “We rely heavily on volunteers. Even our accountants, they are volunteers. Volunteers are our life blood.”
Volunteers also help with the sports clinics, which are one day events to help expose people with physical disabilities to adaptive sport and build interest in programs offered by the organization. On average, 15 sports clinics are held a year, with some open to everyone and others just open to injured service members.
Richards estimates that 300 athletes, everyone from 4-year-old children to military veterans, participate in ASRA programming each year. The most popular sport is wheelchair basketball.
“We have seven different wheelchair basketball teams starting with our team for 4-year-olds, which makes us unique,” he said. “Most kids start when they are 6-or-8-years old. We start them earlier. When they’re 4-years-old, they’re starting to gain some independence and learn to use their day chairs. We help them get wheelchair skills that transfer to their daily lives.”
Wheelchair soccer and wheelchair rugby are also popular sports.
“We’re trying to offer more sports,” Richards said. “In the past, we’ve mostly focused our efforts in wheelchair sports, but now we’re offering adaptive cycling programs and para-triathlon. Our hope is that by adding para-triathlon, we are going to add a whole new athlete group to our organization, which is what we’re looking for. We can’t just do wheelchair sports anymore.”
As ASRA focuses on new sports, it also hopes to attract older athletes.
“We want to help adults, who may have been disabled later in live, be active,” Richards said.
About 70-percent of current ASRA programs are aimed at youth participants.
One, however, that is open to everyone is the Mentor and Mentee Program.
“The idea behind that program is that our 4-year-olds and our adults, they get to help each other through sports,” Richards said. “The adults and high school kids help mentor our younger athletes who are just starting out in adaptive sports.”
Athletes who grew up in the ASRA Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp often get involved in the Mentor and Mentee Program. Or, as Richards points out, they come back to camp.
“Participants who grew up in our camp and aged out, they come back and they act as a camp counselor,” Richards said. “We love that people want to continue being involved with us.”
“We hope to grow with them.”