Paralympic Sport Club Spotlight: Colorado Springs Therapeutic Recreation Program

By Caryn Maconi | May 30, 2014, 11:35 a.m. (ET)
Colorado Springs TRP participant Lisa Green tries her hand at off-road handcycling during a recent clinic at Red Rock Canyon.

When it comes to the Paralympic Movement in the United States, Colorado Springs leads the way.

As home to the United States Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the city draws Paralympic athletes from across the country to train and compete at the elite level.

But at the City of Colorado Springs Therapeutic Recreation Program (TRP), the focus is grassroots.

This Paralympic Sport Club was launched in 2008 after founder Diane Ridderhoff attended a Paralympic Leadership Conference run by the USOC.

Dan Schwieder, now the USOC’s manager of Paralympic community partnerships, served as the club’s first director. He and Ridderhoff reached out to local military installations and began educating the community about the resources that would soon be available.

The vision was to create a way for people with physical and visual disabilities in the Pikes Peak region to participate in sport – not only to increase their health, but also to enhance their independence, self-esteem and overall quality of life.

“I think providing opportunity for people of all abilities is extremely important, and a program like this just opens the doors,” Ridderhoff said. “We want to be a fully inclusive community.”

Since its founding, TRP has grown to offer a wide variety of sports, from boccia to wheelchair basketball to swimming. Youth and adults of all ability levels take part in the club’s programming, including a large contingent of wounded military veterans.

“Our military adaptive sports coordinator deals directly with service members in the Warrior Transition Unit (at Fort Carson), so she works with at least 100 soldiers per week,” Ridderhoff said. “With our community program, we have about 25-30 people each week that we get to serve – and we are constantly getting new people each season.”  

Handcycling is perhaps the club’s most popular sport – and at TRP, that means more than just cruising on bike paths.

TRP recently partnered with the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center to host an off-road handcycling clinic for its more adventurous participants. At the event, athletes tried their hand at adaptive mountain biking at the Red Rock Canyon Open Space in Colorado Springs.

“The weather was a mix of sun and rain and snow and sleet, and everyone just kept on cycling,” Ridderhoff said. “We had so much fun. Some of the folks had been participating in the road cycling rides, and when they got to try off-road in the dirt, they just loved it.”

And now that the weather is warming up, TRP athletes will have even more opportunities to get outside. The club’s kayaking program is set to launch in August on nearby Prospect Lake, and outdoor road cycling rides will continue throughout the summer – not to mention adaptive sailing, wheelchair tennis, archery and even golf.

Some TRP participants have even moved into volunteer or instructor roles after developing expertise in a particular sport.

“We try to encourage folks who participate in sport club activities, if they’re feeling very confident in their skills, to volunteer and give back,” Ridderhoff said. “It comes very naturally to some folks. They become some of the best volunteers because they understand the equipment needs and adaptations, and they’re very encouraging.”

TRP’s program staff, which includes a few paid members and at least 20 regular volunteers, is committed to supporting its athletes as they rediscover what’s possible every day.

“For my team that I work with, knowing that we’re making a difference in people’s lives is the reason that we do what we do,” Ridderhoff said. “Seeing someone accomplish something that they had no idea they could do – no matter what the sport – that sense of fulfillment and awareness is really cool.”

But TRP doesn’t do it alone. The club has a strong network of support, from equipment sponsors to like-minded organizations in the community. The club’s partners include U.S. Paralympics, the National Sports Center for the Disabled, and Angletech Cycle Different, a company that provides TRP with recumbent bikes and handcycles.

“Through grant funding and other opportunities, we are now to the point that we have a fleet of about eight cycles ourselves – and Angletech kind of augments that with additional cycles for our rides,” Ridderhoff said. “We’ve had really good success in the community, but a huge key to that has been partnering with other organizations that share the same mission.”