Keith Gabel helps an athlete at the Ski Spectacular on Jan. 7, 2017. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann).
When the two largest adaptive sports organizations in the U.S. merged last spring to form Move United, one of the strategic goals was to address the problem of “deserts” across the country where no programs exist to serve athletes.
To quench athletes’ increasing thirst for programs in these “deserts,” Move United immediately launched “Vision 2028,” which seeks to build on its 176 membership organizations in 43 states and the District of Columbia in advance of the Paralympic Games Los Angeles 2028.
“We know that there are adaptive sports deserts across the country where maybe the nearest (program) is a three-hour drive from them,” said Shuan Butcher, Move United communications manager. “The immediate question (for an athlete) is where can I do this? Our goal is to have a program within 90 miles of every citizen in the United States. So we have an aggressive growth model.”
That model became possible when Disabled Sports USA and Adaptive Sports USA joined forces.
“Disabled Sports USA was primarily the biggest pipeline for winter sports,” Butcher said. “And Adaptive Sports USA was the biggest pipeline for summer sports.”
The combination of the two has resulted in a formidable organization that annually serves 80,000 athletes, including 16,000 veterans and their families, offers 50-plus sports and calls on 30,000 volunteers. According to Butcher, Move United produced most of the U.S. athletes who competed at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“Eighty-two percent of all Team USA athletes have gone through one of our programs,” said Butcher of the 2018 Winter Games. “Eight out of 10 of the Team USA athletes participated in our programs.”
According to Butcher, Move United is looking to have an impact well beyond the Paralympic Games.
“We want to confront ignorance or stereotypes. We want to fuel conversation about redefining ability and redefining disabilities,” Butcher said. “Our end goal is to incite action that really leads to a world where everyone’s included.”
It’s a challenge for an organization born in the midst of a pandemic, but Move United has met it.
“Our organization almost immediately made a pivot to an online platform,” Butcher recalled. “We helped facilitate and lead when we created this ‘#AdaptAtHome’ initiative.”
That initiative has offered some 1,200 virtual live and recorded programs for athletes who for now have no access to in-person adaptive sports programs. Those programs have been engaged with a quarter-million times since March.
“We have created a whole library of these #AdaptAtHome workouts and programs and sessions,” Butcher said. “That’s basically here to stay. We have seen the value and heard the feedback. This has been beneficial regardless of the pandemic.”
Even the 33rd annual Ski Spectacular went virtual Dec. 1-3. In recent years, the event drew 700-800 participants to Breckenridge, Colorado, including Paralympic snowboarders such as Brittani Coury and Keith Gabel. This year the virtual version had 1,070 attendees from 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
“We had significant success,” Butcher said. “Going virtual allowed us to reach more people, people who may not be able to travel to Breckenridge, either because of the timing or the date that the event’s held or the cost — or a combination thereof.”
The event featured 37 different virtual sessions over the three-day period.
“We’re already hearing that people who attended for the first time virtually are already looking forward to actually coming out to the event,” Butcher said. “So they caught the bug, if you will. “I think we had about one-third of the event attendees had previously attended the event out in person. So that means two-thirds of the attendees virtually were new to the event.
“It’s really about just showcasing the power of sport and how coming together with other adaptive athletes can push you more. It can push you further. We always say competition breeds character. It’s also a big community.”
Next up on the calendar is the annual Move United Competition Series of major regional events.
“Right now, we have 25 competitions slated between March and July,” Butcher said. “This again is the pipeline for many of the summer Paralympic athletes.”
As Butcher pointed out, Move United will need to be flexible and adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidelines relating to COVID-19. Events may need to be moved or canceled, and dates could change.
Over the long term, Move United will continue to work toward inclusiveness for all the athletes it serves.
“Sport has always been at the forefront of social change,” Butcher said. “We see our role as a nonprofit organization to be a catalyst to lead or drive that.”