Kaweah Delta Hosts Adaptive Sports and Equipment Expo

The Kaweah Delta Rehabilitation Hospital’s 25-year anniversary brought together Valley Children’s Healthcare and Valley Unified School District (VUSD) Saturday September 28 for an Adaptive Sports and Equipment Expo in support of those who have experienced a spinal injury, a brain injury, an amputation or a similar injury.

A crowd of proud parents, vendors and students watched as kids and young adults from Valley Children’s Adaptive Sports program faced off on the basketball court against student volunteers from VUSD’s Sports Therapy, Rehabilitation, Orthopedics, and Neuromuscular Gains (STRONG) Academy based at El Diamante High School.  Educational booths, demonstrations, food trucks and music courtesy of volunteer DJ Smooth added to the fun.

Dr. Jennifer Crocker, medical director of Valley Children’s pediatric rehabilitation center and leader of the Adaptive Sports program saw a need when she moved to the Valley in 2008. “We didn’t have an adaptive sports program for adults, much less for the children. I came from the Midwest where such programs are successful,” said Crocker.

“I tapped into our nurses and therapists and they were enthusiastic about the possibilities. Since then we have been growing and adding activities. We started with water skiing and moved onto bike racing, kayaking, tennis etc. We even started the adapted sports program at China Peak with head of ski patrol Randy Kaufman, who had previous experience in the field.”

One of the goals of the Adaptive Program is to show those with physical and mental disabilities and their families that they can perform activities and enjoy life just like everybody else. They also wish to bring families with similar circumstances together for communal bonding and understanding.

Parents pay nothing. The program is funded entirely by grassroots organizing and donations. Many fundraisers occur yearly, most importantly the Evening of Possibility in March. Guest speakers include athletes and parents who share personal experiences before auctions and a dance party.

“We can buy equipment and pay for man hours but our goal is a completely self-sustaining program that offers both competitive and recreational sports and we are almost there,” continued Crocker. “We are always looking for new volunteers and support from the community. If you don’t have the time, you can donate space and resources. Many don’t realize what they have to offer to give back to the community.”

Currently the program offers team sports basketball, sled hockey and tennis as well as event programs such as camping, kayaking, paddle boarding, rock climbing, SCUBA diving, track and field and water skiing.

The basketball program began with 6 basketball players in 2013 and has had as many as 18. This year there are 15 players, boys and girls.

“We have a great commitment not only from the kids but from their parents, especially those who have to travel long distances,” said Valley Children’s Adaptive Sports Coordinator Alexis Newlin. “Also, the kids who graduate often come back to mentor.”

One mentor on the court with the kids, Larry Ruiz, has been involved for three years. He remains a paraplegic after a tragic car accident and a year in the hospital. “When I started it was a great blessing. I love seeing all the familiar faces,” said Ruiz. “I also ski, kayak and participate in other sports. Adaptive sports are my life.”

Newlin shared her enthusiasm for the unique event:

“It’s a great way to give the STRONG kids real life experience and have fun at the same time. They don’t want to get out of their wheelchairs! Also, this is the first Adaptive Sports event showcasing equipment from all over the Valley.”

STRONG is a four-year program featured at El Diamante High School and led by instructor Kimberly Mirwald, PhD, ATC. According to www.vusd.org, the program focuses on the prevention, treatment and management of illness and injury as well as the preservation of mental and physical well-being. These areas of study will focus not only on sports but in life through concentrating on the study of many sciences: biology, kinesiology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology.  This will all take place throughout the students’ 4 year tenure at the home of the Miners.

STRONG prepares students for many careers, including athletic trainer, physical therapist, orthopedic surgeon, occupational therapist, registered nurse, medical doctor, sport psychologist, physical education teacher and personal trainer.

Owner of Geiger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc. Paul Geiger added, “Just because you’ve had an amputation or stroke doesn’t mean you can’t be active. We have stroke victims that can ride their bikes after never dreaming it could happen. It’s rewarding to help.”

This event was only one of several intended to celebrate the 25th anniversary of helping people reclaim their lives after life-altering injuries. All leaders involved agreed that it was a success and that bringing such a diversity of organizations and vendors together should be done at least annually.

Kaweah Delta Physical Therapist Neuro- IFRAH Certified Tara Norman PT, DPT, NCS said the goal was to “showcase methods of rehabilitation that many aren’t aware of while doing something fun with the community. We have a lot of resources and opportunities for adults as well as children. We do in-patient as well as out-patient treatment.” To reach the Kaweah Delta Rehabilitation Hospital directly you can call 559-624-3700.

To make a donation or for more information call 559-353-6130 or visit valleychildrens.org/adaptivesports. You may also donate online by visiting donate.valleychildrens.org/donate.

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