Paralympic Sport Club Spotlight: Miami Dade Parks and Recreation

By Traci Hendrix | May 10, 2013, 12 p.m. (ET)

Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation (Paralympic Sport Club Miami) offers shooting among other sports
Shooting is one of the sports offered by Paralympic Sport Club Miami, a program of Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation. 

Biweekly, 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.

In 1990, Miami-Dade (Fla.) Parks and Recreation expanded their programming to include two adaptive sports including tandem cycling and wheelchair tennis with the participation of a Paralympic athlete. With that addition, and more than 20 years of progressive movement since, Paralympic Sport Club Miami has turned an unstoppable force within the world of adaptive sports.

Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation now provides programming in almost a dozen areas, including canoe/kayak, fencing, goalball, shooting, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. A recent recipient of the United States Olympic Committee’s Olympic Opportunity Fund grant, which provides the club with funding for program development, Paralympic Sport Club Miami continues to grow.

“The recreational therapists at the VA work hard to reiterate the importance of being active, so since we can now provide travel, it helps the process along,” said Lucy Binhack, park disabilities service manager.

Among other advantages, the grant allows Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation to connect with veterans, and provide them with transportation from the local Veterans Administrative Hospital to club activities. The grant is crucial to the club’s focus on helping disabled veterans live active lifestyles.

 “Leading healthy lifestyles through Paralympic sports encourages [veterans] to get back into fun and active habits,” Jody Cox, a recreational therapist for Miami-Dade said. “It helps them to relearn skills like teamwork, strategizing and working as a unit. With the sports the grant has provided, coping with their losses is also made easier.”

Credit was also given to the collaboration with Challenged Athletes Foundation, which helps provide equipment that many athletes would not be able to afford, therefore hindering them from advancing in sport. Paralympic Sport Club Miami offers both recreational and competitive sport opportunities.

While getting veterans more involved in adaptive programs has been a longstanding initiative for the club, Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation is also focused on providing opportunities to children with disabilities.

“We host the ‘Paralympic Experience’ every year hoping to educate families and get children with disabilities more involved in sports,” said Binhack. “It started as ‘Sport Access Day’ in the 90s, having stations of different adaptive sports and continues to stand as a way to educate families with disabled children on the opportunities they have and for those who are already familiar with Paralympic sports to be ambassadors and mentors to the kids.”

The goal of the Paralympic Experience program, an initiative of U.S. Paralympics, is to show individuals with physical and visual disabilities how participation in sport can have a profoundly positive impact on their lives.

With two Paralympic athletes attending their recent Paralympic Experience, parents and kids were able to hear their past struggles and how they overcame them through adaptive sports and into the Paralympic Games. Their encouragement to parents is pertinent in the involvement for their kids, and their stories inspire them to build goals, to not be afraid of their disability and strive for excellence.

Grants awarded to the Miami-Dade Parks Department also help provide children with transportation to their weekend sports programs, helping alleviate the burden for parents.

Since the development of all-inclusive programs for disabled children, Binhack expressed the hardships of locating children with disabilities in the Miami area. As Paralympic Sport Club Miami expands its network within the community, the club becomes a more beneficial program for the entire community.

“’Paralympics’ Partners’ is a program where the school system, parks department and local organizations can all come together, network and share resources,” said Binhack. “It allows us to target kids, veterans and any other prospective participants while helping the other organizations out as well.”

In April, Jody Cox attended the Paralympic Leadership Conference presented by Deloitte in Colorado Springs, Colo., to continue Miami-Dade’s efforts in networking.

“I went last year and came back this year because of the great opportunity it presents to connect with other clubs,” beamed Cox. “I learned about new sports, tried sitting volleyball and re-motivated myself for our club, increasing our programming and furthering the Paralympic Movement overall.”

Partnerships are what Binhack believes gives a Paralympic sport club its strength and makes it excel.

“Connecting with your community, seeing what we can offer each other and ultimately creating an effective force within Paralympic sports is the most important thing,” she said. “We are very grateful for our relationship with the Paralympics."

They provide support, everlasting enthusiasm, marketing promotion and a financial foundation we can thrive off of to offer the best experience possible for individuals with disabilities.”