A recent article posted by my friend reminded me of how important physical activity and sports were in my young adult life. When you grow up with a disability it is often easy for parents or caregivers to shelter you from activities they feel would be impossible for you to take part in, or might cause you injury.
I said in earlier writings that I grew up in a family of athletes and spent many a days watching them compete in their chosen sport or after school activities.. In 1978 when I moved from Long Island to Connecticut my parents stumbled onto a program that was designed for people with Cerebral Palsy. Basically the program was set up to have people of varying disabilities compete and train in activities like track and field, weightlifting, obstacle courses and many other things. I can honestly tell you, this program did a lot more for me then just give me an opportunity to be more physically active.
The people I met became friends for life and led me to other programs and social events that helped me to realize I was not by myself facing the challenges that I had to face every day. As an adult today, I know that I am a different person than I would have been without the sports program and the Easter Seals camp that I attended as a teenager.
I chose my career in college based on the knowledge and interaction that I had in these programs. My bachelors degree is in Therapeutic Recreation because I wanted to know more about how to develop activities that could be done by people of varying abilities and bridge the gap between the disabled and non-disabled creating a more positive interaction and level of understanding between both groups.
I encourage everyone to research programs like the Special Olympics and others in your area and take part at whatever level possible even if it does not lead to competition on the athletic field. The social interaction provided is of greater importance simply because these types of activities build confidence, conditioning and discipline that go a long way in being successful in everyday life.
I offer one word of caution, one of the basic tenets of Therapeutic Recreation is that the activity be age-appropriate.for the participants. The Special Olympics is a great program that has countless volunteers that work tirelessly to make successful events happen several times a year. The one issue that remains in my opinion is that everyone gets a medal just for participating. This may be necessary for certain groups but there are many alternatives for higher functioning athletes like the Para-Olympics or wheelchair basketball, rugby and bowling. If you are reading this article and have a question about what may be available in your community visit: http://www.disabilityinformationnetwork.com and click on contact us and I would be happy to help you.