Paralympic Sport Club Spotlight: RISE Adventures

By Caryn Maconi | Oct. 25, 2013, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
Water skiing is one of the sports offered by RISE Adventures
Water skiing is one of the sports offered by RISE Adventures, a Paralympic Sport Club in North Texas.
 Wheelchair rugby is one of the sports offered by RISE Adventures
Like all RISE Adventures programs, athletes participate in wheelchair rugby at no cost.

Recover, inspire, succeed and empower: these are the goals that RISE Adventures, also known as Paralympic Sport Club North Texas, sets for each of its members.

RISE, based in Irving, Texas, is an adaptive sports center that provides completely free programming for individuals with disabilities and their families.

The center was founded in March 2007 and offers activities ranging from handcycling and swimming to skateboarding and sailing. For youth, RISE even hosts outdoor camping, fishing and hunting expeditions.

Unlike many Paralympic Sport Clubs and adaptive recreation centers, RISE is completely free to participants. That means no membership or registration costs, no program fees, and no equipment rental fees. The center is also almost entirely volunteer-run, with only the executive director receiving pay. RISE’s funding comes solely from grants and donations.

Andy Burton, founder of RISE’s wheelchair rugby team and the club’s current program manager, said offering programs for free allows RISE to reach out to many more athletes than with a fee-based model.

“When I was initially hurt, I was young and didn’t have the funding to do anything,” Burton said. “There wasn’t anything out there that I could do without having to spend a ton of money on equipment. It’s hard to tell somebody, ‘You should get into track or rugby,” when there’s a huge upfront investment involved for something that they may not even enjoy.

“[Providing free programming] really equals the playing field. It allows people to find out what they really like and want to do, and it also involves everybody.”

As part of its mission to provide access to all levels, ages and abilities, RISE operates its sports programs at three different levels of competitiveness. Level 1 is meant to be an introduction to a program or specific sport taught by experienced peers and coaches; Level 2 introduces structured practices including warm-ups and drills with an emphasis on improvement; and Level 3 focuses on competition and performance with opportunities for scrimmage play.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand what the Paralympic Movement is. When they hear about what RISE is about or when they see disabled athletes, they think Special Olympics,” Burton said. “We are athletes that train and sacrifice like able-bodied athletes … It’s the same drama, the same competition.”

Able-bodied family members and friends are encouraged to join in on RISE’s activities alongside those with disabilities, which is something Burton said makes the program unique.

“One of the bigger things that I love about what we do is that if you’re in a chair or you come to our program, we don’t segregate you,” Burton said. “It’s not like, ‘I’m in a chair, I’m going to my sibling’s baseball game and there’s nothing for me to get involved in.’ Now, the whole family can come to RISE and everybody can be involved. It’s huge because it allows everybody to be together and do the same thing; nobody is on the sidelines.”

Board member Tawain Gilbert said RISE and other adaptive sport clubs like it play a valuable role in post-injury rehabilitation.

“Whether someone has had an accident or grew up disabled, it has been proven that adaptive recreational programs are a vital part of that recovery, in getting those with physical challenges active in everyday life,” Gilbert said. “That’s why it’s important for there to be more recreational programs like this in areas that don’t offer one.”

Gilbert has muscular dystrophy and uses a power chair. He originally became involved with RISE as an athlete in 2012, becoming a member of the program’s board of directors shortly thereafter.

For Gilbert, RISE’s power soccer program built relationships and helped him feel a sense of belonging more so than ever before.  

“I really want to be active even though I have a physical disability,” Gilbert said. “When I first played [power soccer], I really enjoyed the feeling of being on a team. I thought I was ‘Pele’ when I scored my first goal!”

Indoor soccer and power soccer are offered every Saturday at the George Farrow Recreation Center in Irving. Wheelchair rugby, one of the club’s most popular sports, is held there as well on Friday nights.

Burton, who works with the rugby team every Friday, said he has seen time and again the positive changes RISE members experience as they become involved in adaptive sports.

“You get somebody who’s newly injured, or maybe has been injured for a while but not really acclimated in society in a while, and you get them acclimated into sports,” Burton said. “You see them grow and come out of their shell. They get more involved and care more about their physical being and their life in general. Their drive picks up again. They become more productive and they get on with life, basically.”