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Adaptive sports clinic puts disabled athletes on wheels

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Scott Law teaches the art of wheelchair tennis
  • Scott Law teaches the art of wheelchair tennis

Two hours may not be enough time to turn potential athletes into professional stars, but Saturday's wheelchair basketball clinic in Fountain is a good place to start. One of the biggest concerns of Easter Seals, the sponsors of the event, is heightening the exposure to the possibilities offered by adaptive sports giving people with disabilities a good sense of the opportunities available to them.

"That's one of the reasons why I enjoy these clinics so much," Scott Law told the Indy from his home in Ohio earlier this week, describing the goals of introducing adaptive sports like basketball, tennis and softball at the clinic. "If I can target even just a few of the children that have the ability to take the information that I'm going to be showing them and carry it through to actually getting involved in the sport, then it makes it all worthwhile. Then again, even if it's just for that one day, these kids are just having a ball."

Easter Seals Southern Colorado is sponsoring the free clinic in keeping with their mission of "helping kids and adults with disabilities achieve maximum independence," according to development director Jeannette Lee. They offer ongoing programs in El Paso, Teller and Pueblo counties, providing everything from "respite" evenings and weekends, giving families a break from 24-hour care cycles, to occupational therapy and speech therapy, to support programs for people with disabilities stemming from stroke, epilepsy, polio and other conditions.

There are no current local recreational programs outside of the Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village summer camp, but this clinic is not an attempt to launch a new ongoing program. "The intent is just to let people have a bird's-eye view of it," Lee told the Indy. "It's kind of like a one-shot fun event to open their awareness rather than take it into a sports program."

Law, who leads the clinic with fellow athlete Larry Evans, has been active in adaptive sports for 16 years, ever since breaking his back in a motorcycle accident while stationed in the Air Force in Alamagordo, N.M. He has played for the top tier team in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he has represented the United States on its National Team and in several international competitions, although two untimely surgeries kept him from competing in the past two Paralympic Games. He went to Korea this past winter to compete on a hand-picked all-star team, and reports that the U.S. team "kicked some butt."

When competing at that level, the specialized equipment can begin to get expensive, but Law emphasizes that beginning at a recreational level is entirely accessible without necessitating financial commitment or an extensive support structure. "A ball and a couple other guys to play with, or even just yourself" are all that's needed to get started, Law stresses. "Adaptive sports are there for just about anything that you can possibly imagine, from wheelchair tennis to basketball to road racing all the way down to ice hockey."

Although Cavaliers Division 1 team has folded since Law played for them, he remains active in the team's Division 2 and 3 affiliates, and has his eye on one more chance to represent the country in the Paralympics in Greece in 2004. At 39, this may be his last legitimate chance to compete in the Paralympics, but he notes, "One of the nicest things about wheelchair sports is that you can play into your later years." Nevertheless, heightened exposure of the possibilities in adaptive sports has created an outstanding crop of younger athletes.

Law was not particularly active in sports before his accident in 1985 left him paraplegic. He had been a swimmer in high school and college and had played softball for the base team in New Mexico. While he was recovering in the hospital, a friend took him to watch a wheelchair tennis tournament, and Law was quickly inspired to develop the skills he saw demonstrated on the court. "I got involved in a lot of different sports and recreation activities just to get back into the social life. Past that, the competition got back in my blood, and you're like, 'Well, all right, I can do this and I can bring it to the next level.' It started out more or less as a recreational rehab outlet and then it got competitive from there."

Law is also active in peer counseling with those who have recently become disabled. "I'll initially try to get them to become more outgoing, because after a severe injury they're going to think, 'What am I going to do now? I'm just going to sit at home and not do this and not be able to get out of bed, get myself dressed, get back into life.'" Law helps these people who are newly disabled push past the perception of limitations and barriers. "I try to stay in the physical sense of being able to do things that you think that you aren't going to be able to do so far as wheel chair mobility, transfers in and out of bed, in and out of a car, driving. You're adapting. You're going to be able to do the same things that you did before; just some of them might be in a different way. I try not to get into their minds, because I'm not qualified for that. All I can do is share my experiences and my mental attitude. I try to teach them how to get through a day, physically."

So much of the key in developing mobility and independence is a matter of initiative and attitude, according to Law. "It's like the first time I ever saw anybody bounce steps or hop up a curb. I thought, 'Hey, if he can do that, I can do that.' So I tried it, I practiced, I wiped out, I fell, whatever, but I ended up being able to do that. That was part of my learning experience and making my life more adaptive toward day-to-day activities as opposed to expecting the cities that I go to or the restaurants or whatever to become adaptive to me."

Law finds that too many people with disabilities expect adaptive perfection in a world that is unfortunately far from perfect. "I truly think that the majority of persons with disabilities expect a little too much out of accessibility issues," he notes, and part of his mission is to inspire people to take these issues into their own hands.

Over the six years that Law has been participating in Easter Seals camps and clinics, he has seen several of the young adults he's encountered pursue their interests and get involved on the national level in basketball, tennis and even quad rugby. Aside from his personal goals on the court, he's eager to keep encouraging others through the clinics.

"I enjoy coming out and making the kids smile and having a good time and working with them," he says, reiterating the importance of keeping the exposure high. "The best part for me would be to go to a camp and not see any disabled children at all. That would be nice, but then again I wouldn't be needed anymore."


capsule

Wheelchair Basketball Clinic

For kids and adults with disabilities

John Metcalfe Memorial Park, Fountain

Part of the Rampart Range Sertoma BBQ Festival

Sat., Aug. 11, 1-3 p.m.

Free. Pre-register and receive free gifts from JC Penny and Microsoft, or just show up. Call 574-9002 for registration and information.

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