Core Principle 2:
Each person is an individual; each disability is different.
We respect those differences and work with each person as an individual.
I was recently introduced as an expert in disability and sport. I was humbled at the kind remark and conflicted with it. I questioned can anyone be an expert in adapted sport? Over the course of my life, living with spina bifida, engaging in life with children, living abroad for seven years, paving the way in activities that were not “accessible”, working in hospital systems… there is one thing I have learned. There is NO expert in disability.
Why I do I say that? People’s bodies are different. The way the body can be impacted by disability looks different in each person, almost like the DNA code, it is individual.
I have experienced on multiple occasions where the disability class of “Spina Bifida” caused assumptions from medical providers, to physical therapists, occupational therapists, etc. that were not true for me. When seeking answers to specific questions medically, my needs are addressed through generalizations verses understanding the need. These assumptions have carried over into the education community as well. I had a professor tell me that students with Spina Bifida are not academically inclined, thus their expectation is that they could not attend a college with a higher level of academics. This comment made me sad and angry at the same time. I have also engaged in the government community as well with similar misguided understandings. In the early days, assumptions were given that if I was patted on the head, spoken to with a smile, I would go away. I think people who know me understand that I will not do that! 😊 What I learned is that assumptions create judgements that are not true and hurt, holds one back, and ultimately damages.
This truth is alive in adapted sport. Each person is an individual; each disability is different. This is a foundational truth that Bridge II Sports engages in adapted sport. What does that mean? It means we need to understand your need; how your disability has impacted you specifically. I think this dialog is crucial for youth with disabilities.
Back in year one of BIIS, I was coaching. I collaborated with different folks to expand the reach. During a youth wheelchair basketball practice, one of the volunteers came to me saying a child who was 8 years old could not play as they did not have shoes on. I was familiar with this child. I knew they had club feet and it was very difficult to keep shoes on. That was also a difficulty that I had as a child. I had the ability to explain, and then we went to the child and adapted the leg guard to hold his feet out of the way so he would not get hurt. There was an assumption: ‘you do not have shoes, you cannot play’. To that volunteer’s credit, they were managing safety. By going through that ‘exercise’ all learned – the child to voice their reality: “I cannot keep shoes on my feet”; the coach: empower how to work with the limit; parents: BIIS will find a way. Additionally, we begin to see each person, and understand what there need is. No big bucket solutions.
This foundation flows into the rest of this core principle, We respect those differences and work with each person as an individual. This last year with the influence of Covid, political unrest, hurt and death, we may have had a very different outcome if we all embraced this understanding of interaction with each other.
Our goal at Bridge II Sports is to respect all who come into our path. That includes a diverse group of people with disabilities that possess an abundance of ability that are empowered through adapted equipment and a staff who commits to humbly ask “How can we help?”. Your needs are listened to. At our core Each person is an individual; each disability is different. We respect those differences and work with each person as an individual.
May I ask, please join us at Bridge II Sports! Become part of the Bridge to Life,
Core Principle 3:
As Experts, we create safety for those at risk to try.
You may say, this is a controversial principle as I just said no one can be an expert in adapted sport. I must say, I see your point. Let me add perspective.
Adapted sport does take training, understanding of a variety of disability, understanding of a multitude of adapted equipment and how it all works together. Safe adapted sport programs do take training and knowledge. Bridge II Sports requires the following trainings for the staff and lead volunteers including: Darkness to Light Child Sexual Abuse Training; Safe Sport by USOPC; First Aid/CRP/AED Certification; TBI/PTS Training; Positive Coaching Certification; Concussion Training, in addition to adapted sport specific training and certifications. To the point of being an expert, we do require training and continued training. Let’s keep going.
I like and believe that our team needs to have diversity. This goes beyond gender, race, orientation, as we do represent those types of diversity well.
I am talking about diversity of disability as part of the leadership team. Experience gained through living with disability offers wisdom and allows others in the journey of disability to see that they can. I am pleased to say that our team of staff and lead volunteers represents amputees; spina bifida, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, blind and low vision. The diversity at Bridge II Sports reflects our community that we live within. Through diverse representation, we are all strengthened. It allows those of us who live each day with disability to ask questions and find solutions freely and openly. This is done with genuine care and without fear of feeling like we each must know it all. Solutions can be combinations of experiences. There is freedom in this as the truth of life tells us that we will not and we never will know all the solutions. We do have to commit to arming ourselves with the most knowledge we can. This allows us as a staff and team to own the challenges that may come up in running adapted sports programs. Therefore, we do not “put” the challenge on the individual who comes for the first time to try adapted sport for the first time. When I use the word Expert, it is that we understand we will never know all the nuisances of each disability, each body’s response to the disability, so we must keep our eyes open, ask questions, and be the safeguard while a new athlete is learning their own reaction to sport.
One example that may help understand my point. With stoke, spinal cord injury, spina bifida, and a variety of other types of disabilities, some of the sensory receptors are no longer engaged. A person may not feel their leg, arm, hand. When this happens, my expectation of our staff is that we must keep a vigilant watch. Why? It is very easy for someone newly injured to not be engaged with that loss of sensory perception, thus, limbs may fall, and they are not aware. When doing sport, this can become a place of injury. It does take time to learn the bodies weakness even when you have been told 100 times in therapy. It is a skill that is developed over time.
Another example is heat can be a huge risk for those who cannot regulate their body temperature due to the injury. Again, having that understanding as a sport leader, it is common to keep an eye on faces, and tremors as they may be giving a signal that the body is overheating. These folks are trying a new sport with some risk. In programs at BIIS we openly talk about these things so that as a group playing adapted sports, we are also keeping an eye, supporting our team members who are learning the impact of their disability. This allows us all to take part of the support.
As experts, it is my expectation that our staff keep people safe. With the diversity of those we serve, safety is a priority. It is a subtle difference of empowering others. As one engages in sport for the first time, they may not know their own body weaknesses…yet. Staff watching with a keen awareness empowers sport. As experts, we create safety for those at risk to try.
For those who are watching, may I ask, please join us at Bridge II Sports! Become part of the Bridge to Life!
Core Principle 4:
There is a sport for everybody, we provide the space to enjoy the journey of discovery.
When I look around our area in the Research Triangle Park, we have a rich plethora of sport opportunities from fencing, badminton, curling, to basketball, soccer, kayaking, golf, football, and everything in between.
Why? We are all different.
Our body shapes are different; how we carry our body load; our drive, our desire for team or individual sports demands diversity in sport. Adapted sport is no different. It is why Bridge II Sports offers diverse sports from the beginning. One sport does not fit all. If we are talking about empowering life through adapted sport, we need to have diverse sport. A person with more profoundly impacted Cerebral Palsy may have different muscle ability to that of a person who has an amputation. Someone who is drawn to the water is different from someone who is drawn to a basketball court. Regardless, in the world of adapted sport, there are several variables to be considered in the realm of disabilities that causes a need for diverse sport.
When you are injured or born with disability, it is easy to gravitate to any opportunity of adapted sport. That does not mean it is the one that will keep you engaged for life, filling the need for community, give-and-take, as well as skill development that brings satisfaction and expertise. I believe that each person has the right to choose. That means if you want to play wheelchair basketball and you have brittle bone, we will find a way to help you. If you are ranked number one in the US as a tandem cyclist and you discover dance, you have the right to say “I want to dance”. People with disabilities can chose how to use their time to engage in sport.
I had a staff a few years ago who guided our young athletes into sport they could compete in. They thought they knew the better sports for each disability to gain more proficiency and skill with the individual’s specific disability. Sadly, they guided this person to a sport they did not want to play because they wanted to be on a team. That was more important than being competitive. For the person with the disability, it was more than gaining a specific skill to compete. They loved being with a group who accepted them and welcomed them to be part of a team. Likewise, I have seen individuals with disabilities work hard to gain a skill to compete, while others have a natural fit for a particular sport and gain skill like a duck to water.
When one is limited by disability to have choice in sport, we need to give them the freedom to try multiple types of sport and find the one they love that will keep them active for life. Then, we created change and empowered choice.
Please join us at Bridge II Sports! Become part of the Bridge to Life.
Core Principle 5:
We are a community where everybody belongs.
We are at our final week of exploring our five core principles. Thank you to each one who read this and desired to understand the foundation that guides us each day in the life changing work that is done by an amazing team! What is that fifth principle? We are a community where everybody belongs. As I write this, so many faces flood through my mind’s eye of people who found hope and life again through adapted sport at Bridge II Sports. I want to share about some of those folks who were part of our journey.
Before I go there, I would like to talk about differences in sport and confusion as to who we serve. Years ago, I wrote an article called ‘Oly, Paraly, and Special Oly’. The Oly, Paraly, and Special Oly are all on equal footing at the same parallel. They are all part of the ‘mpics’: Olympics, Paralympics, Special Olympics. The difference is the methods that are used to get the best outcome for each group.
Bridge II Sports’ falls under the Paralympics. That means we create a path for anyone with a physical disability who wants to compete at the highest level… Paralympics. These athletes may need adapted equipment to engage in sport.
Special Olympics share the same path for anyone who wants to compete at the highest level. The difference is that they serve people with intellectual disability. Some of the beginning training may take a one-on-one assistant until they learn the skill. In the highly competitive games of Special Olympics, athletes compete alone.
The Olympics are most known worldwide. These are the best of the best able-bodied people from each nation who compete. The games bring the world together under the banner of sportsmanship and good will while learning about other cultures.
Each group plays a very important part that allows growth, engagement, confidence, and independence through sport. I am so thankful that we live in a world that understands different needs of all within our communities.
Yes, Bridge II Sports serves people with physical disabilities but we also invite others to play to ‘challenge perceptions of disability’. Over the years we have seen the benefit of siblings playing together. It’s often –the first time for many brothers or sisters to truly play on an equal field with their sibling with a disability and experience the challenge, difficulty, new skills and fun of adapted sports. A new relationship is born.
The EveryBodyPlaysNC program takes adapted sport to the schools cultivating understanding among students and faculty of how all can play together, gaining the strengths that well-run sports can develop.
Just like able-bodied people are not one dimensional, people with disabilities are not just disabled. Over the last 15 years, Bridge II Sports has served people with disabilities who are also transgender, some who find companionship with the opposite sex and some with the same sex. Our athletes come from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and socio-economic levels. Everybody belongs.
Sometimes when I am sharing who we serve, I think of the quote at the Statue of Liberty:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But we like to put our own twist on it 😊
“Keep, ancient discrimination, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your amputees, your spinal cord injured, your blind,
Your people with disabilities yearning to play free,
Leave thoughts of ‘less than’ on your teeming shore.
Send these, the disabled, their siblings and families to Bridge II Sports,
I’ll have adapted equipment ready beside the gym door!”
We are a community where everybody belongs, where we see the abilities and appreciate the journey discovered.
For those who are watching, may I ask, please join us at Bridge II Sports! Become part of the Bridge to Life,