Children’s Hospital Central California: Experiencing What’s Possible Through Adaptive Sports
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Experiencing What’s Possible Through Adaptive Sports
by Monica Prinzing
The fun and excitement that come from water skiing on a hot summer day, achieving another level in rock climbing or winning a close basketball game can be hard to beat. For many people with a congenital or acquired physical disability, however, such enjoyable activities seem possible only from the sidelines.
“I didn’t think I could do these things, but then I found out it is possible,” said David Moreno of Tulare, who became paralyzed from the waist down at age 17 following a car accident. “There’s a lot I can do. I just do it in a different way.”
Now 19, the former football player gained a new perspective when he joined the Children’s Hospital Central California Adaptive Sports Program soon after his injury. “It opened up a new world for me,” Moreno said.
Located just north of Fresno, Children’s Hospital launched the only program of its kind in the region in 2011 with its first water ski session at Shredder Lake in Sanger. Today the program, with more than 100 participants and numerous volunteers, offers free recreational and competitive activities that also include rock climbing, sled hockey, tennis, golf, kayaking, zip-lining, power soccer, snow skiing, wheelchair basketball and more. Youth up to age 21 with conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to spinal cord injuries are eligible to take part regardless if they’re a Children’s Hospital patient.
“Our adaptive sports program has quickly grown, thanks to the dedicated support of the hospital, volunteers and community,” said Dr. Jennifer Crocker, medical director of Children’s Hospital pediatric rehabilitation center, who developed and leads the program.
Adaptive sports help people with a physical impairment improve their health and well-being while boosting their confidence and independence. Specialized equipment accommodates various levels of need and ability.
“There’s a misconception that people with a disability can’t be active or competitive,” said Crocker, adding that participants also benefit from using different muscles than those exercised in physical therapy. “We work with each individual to show them what is possible.”
Through a new partnership with China Peak Mountain Resort and California State University, Fresno, the program held its first snow ski session in January.
“Taking the kids to the mountains and snow skiing is something we’ve always wanted to do, but it seemed too overwhelming with everything else,” Crocker said.
Not anymore. The introductory ski event featuring six participants, as well as instructors and volunteers, also kicked off the new China Peak Adaptive Sports Center. Open to children and adults, the center aims to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities through outdoor adventures that emphasize family involvement at or near China Peak. The center will also provide those youth involved in Children’s Hospital’s program a place to transition to when they get older.
This summer the center is making mountain biking and rock climbing available. Kayaking, fly fishing, horseback riding and sailing will also be offered eventually.
“We want to help people participate to the fullest extent of their abilities,” Randy Coffman, the Center’s ski patrol director, said. “The most rewarding thing is seeing them do something they thought they couldn’t do.”
Recounting his experience at one of the country’s largest adaptive sports programs in Crested Butte, Colo., Coffman mentioned participants from the Wounded Warrior Project. “We had a total amputee—no arms or legs—who learned to kayak and another who was just so grateful there were activities he could do with his family,” he said.
This sense of accomplishment often carries over to other aspects of participants’ lives.
Children’s Hospital patient Ally Woodyatt, 12, of Exeter, for example, felt her world caving in when a metabolic disease suddenly left her paralyzed and wheelchair-dependent three years ago.
“I was a lot shyer,” Ally, whose condition has greatly improved and no longer requires a wheelchair, said. “The adaptive sports people know how much to push me to try things because they know me; I trust them. I’m different since I’ve had this program in my life, family support and friends. I wouldn’t be who I am today. I like me.”
“So many things weren’t possible anymore,” Joanna Woodyatt, Ally’s mother, recalled. “Children’s adaptive sports program opened us to a support network and other kids with disabilities – a whole new family.”
Liam Niewohner, 14, diagnosed with a mild form of cerebral palsy at age 6 and later juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, agreed: “It was an opportunity to feel normal and to forget about what I can’t do.”
Now Liam wants to give back. When the Fresno teen needed a wheelchair periodically while attending a Boy Scouts of America camp, he learned firsthand the difficulties of maneuvering curbs, hills and bridges. For his Eagles Scout Service Project, he proposed raising funds for and building a large, outdoor mobility course at Children’s Hospital to help patients with all forms of disabilities, from paralysis to traumatic brain injury, better navigate their environment.
A local architect and general contractor generously volunteered their assistance for the hospital-approved project, charging only $35,000 total for the cost of supplies. About $2,500 has been raised to date.
“Don’t let an injury or disability stop you,” Liam encouraged. “Anything is possible.”
For more information, or to participate, donate or volunteer, contact:
Children’s Hospital Central California Adaptive Sports Program
(559) 353-6130 or AdaptiveSports@ChildrensCentralCal.org or
China Peak Adaptive Sports Center
(559) 593-2504 (Randy Coffman)
Monica Prinzing is a former newspaper reporter and editor. She is currently the Senior Writer of Communications and Marketing at Children's Hospital Central California.