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.
Mike Boone grew up with constant exposure to the disabled.
Now the director of Adaptive Sports Iowa - Paralympic Sport Club Iowa, Bone helped his visually impaired father on a day-to-day basis, which gave him a passion for finding and maintaining accessible conditions for people with disabilities. Ultimately, he became an adaptive ski instructor in his college years but then moved to Iowa.
“I was hooked,” Boone explained. “After coming to Iowa, I realized there was no adaptive sport history in the state, and that needed to change.”
Boone and his wife boldly started up ASI in 2011 with wheelchair basketball, which is now one of their most popular sports. The Iowa Sport Foundation quickly saw its impact, took ASI under its wing and they now serve all physical disabilities together with multiple sport programs such as cycling, power soccer, beep baseball and goalball.
“It’s grown exponentially,” said Boone. “We really had no idea of the huge growth, but all our efforts have paid off and ISF has really helped us take off.”
Last year, ASI was host to the annual Beep Baseball World Series that hosts over 10 teams from around the world. The national exposure they received was in turn the realization that they had the chance to host large events and gain public visibility.
Iowa is somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to adaptive sports. It was the first state in the United States that included adaptive athletes into their high school track and field competitions. Sean Runyan was the main proprietor of this induction resulting from the push of his parents to the school boards. Last year, ASI created the Sean Runyan Award, which highlights great efforts in adaptive sports, for athletes within the program to strive for.
“It seemed right for the award for our program’s athlete of the year to be named after such an innovative character in adaptive sports,” Boone said.
Another historic aspect Iowa and Boone have presented for able-bodied and adaptive athletes is the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. (The Des Moines Register is the largest newspaper in the state.)
For the past 40 years, RAGBRAI has hosted 25-30,000 cyclists every July for a seven-day cycling ride across the state of Iowa from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River. It is the oldest, largest and longest bike touring event in the world.
Boone, after taking part in the tour a few times, noticed the limited accessibility for disabled athletes. He felt obligated to alleviate this issue and pitched the idea of having a team to represent ASI in the 500 mile cycling ride.
“ASI’s team serves to eliminate the stress and provide the best possible experience for our cyclists,” said Boone.
ASI helps by taking care of transportation, lodging and other requirements that come with including disabled athletes in a cross-state bike tour. The best part, to Boone, is the fact that ASI’s team doesn't solely represent Iowa, but it has members from all over the country.
This year a blind cyclist from Florida will be guided by a sighted athlete from Maine.
“RAGBRAI serves as a visual statement for societal education about adaptive athletes,” he explained. “It also gives able-bodied athletes direct interaction with disabled cyclists. They are all expected to be able to cycle across the state, disabled or not. They are together all week and after all that, the word ‘disabled’ loses its luster.”
The adaptive cyclists accept and embrace the role of being advocates for athletes with disabilities, and being a part of something so influential gives them maximum exposure throughout the entire state.
Last year, ASI had a team of 24. This year, Boone said the expected head count is 60 consisting of 30 athletes and 30 volunteers. He said he doesn't expect the popularity rate of adaptive sports to slow down any time soon.
“With the help of my father, I understand the quality of life it brings to people with disabilities and I saw the huge need to expand it and keep it growing," he said.
Boone would like to see more involvement from military athletes in the future. With that, he hopes to meet ASI's long-term goal of expanding and reaching the entirety of Iowa. With relatively few adaptive sports opportunities accessible in my areas of the state, he believes ASI has the unique opportunity to spread statewide, even considering multiple satellite programs.
Weekly wheelchair basketball practices and games are attended by local and commuting Iowans, so, to Boone, the need to grow is pertinent to ASI’s members.
“We want to engage Iowa’s population to be active and stay involved,” said Boone. “We want to stay convenient for all our athletes. And now we have the ability to host national, large events and gain great exposure.”
The Iowa Games saw a crowd of over 15,000 people last year, and with a 2014 goalball championship and the National Junior Disability Championships coming up, ASI will be seen on a national scale. This national recognition helps to motivate locals also get involved.
ASI is constantly on the rise for new, innovative programs and events to be made available for its athletes. The potential to reach adaptive athletes all over the state with a variety of disabilities is an initiative Boone will not quit on. As the athletes ride across the state for RAGBRAI in July, able-bodied riders and spectators alike will see the inspirational and unfaltering drive these athletes and ASI stand for.