Lexington Center Adaptive Sports Programming By Chris Shook

Transitions alumnus Chris Shook, an aspiring journalist, interned in the Lexington Communications Department during his time at the program. One of his assignments at the internship was to write an article about a Lexington topic, and he chose the adaptive sports program. Read on to hear his take on how Lexington gives the people it supports new and exciting athletic experiences in the outdoors!

Lexington Center Adaptive Sports Programming
By Chris Shook

Having a physical or developmental difference shouldn’t prevent anyone from having fun or participating in sports. Lexington believes this wholeheartedly, and for that reason they provide two related athletic programs to the people they support: adaptive sports and the Special Olympics.

The adaptive sports are regular sports modified to fit individuals who are differently abled. The adaptations cater to individuals who are blind or have problems with mobility – namely, those who are in a wheelchair. The program at Lexington takes its participants sailing in the summertime and skiing in the winter.

The Special Olympics are typically for people with intellectual differences. Today Special Olympics programs provide year-round training and competition to people in 170 countries around the world, but the organization started out much smaller. In 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver noticed that people with intellectual differences had few opportunities and felt they were being treated unfairly. She began it that summer as a day camp in her back yard. Similar camps started growing across the country and by 1968, the program had spread to Canada as well. The first international games were held that year in Chicago. Now, more than 4 million athletes compete in Special Olympics games internationally each year, with events held every day at every level on every continent.

Lexington incorporates their adaptive sports program into their Special Olympics games. In addition to sailing and skiing, Lexington Special Olympic athletes compete in softball, basketball, volleyball, hula-hooping, 125-meter dashes, bobsled, Frisbee, and track and field. There are some adaptations in the other sports as well; for example, the baskets are lower than typical in basketball and softball uses larger bases. The games take place at Lexington’s location at the former Bishop Burke High School. Eighty-five percent of the athletes who participate earn a medal.

In past years, there have been about 30 athletes in the sailing program and about 15 in skiing. The skiing began 10 to 12 years ago, while sailing was added to the program 8 years ago. Skiing is available from January until April at Windham Mountain Ski Resort in the Catskill Mountains and sailing takes place from June to September at Lake George.

“The athletes receive help from people who are trained by people who specialize in helping people with disabilities,” said Bonnie Reuss, the administrator of the adaptive sports program at Lexington. She added that she is “proud of the accomplishments of the athletes.”

According to Reuss, sailing is a bit easier for the athletes than skiing. Staff use Hoyer Lifts to get the athletes onto the boats, which have to be very stable, and they go sailing in the afternoon. 

The skiers, who are a bit more adventurous, navigate the slopes in the mornings on bi-skis. These special pieces of equipment, which look like chairs with skis on the bottom, are specifically designed for individuals with mobility challenges. Other individuals can ski behind the bi-skiers and help guide them down the slopes.

Athletes who participate in adaptive sports must practice frequently and exercise patience. They do compete with each other, but it’s really more about fun. Lexington’s adaptive sports have all been successful – in more than ten years, there have been no injuries and everyone has been well prepared. Lexington is looking to add more sports to the program so athletes can have even more opportunities to experience the gratification and exhilaration of sports.

The athletes seem to enjoy participating in the adaptive sports program, too. Crystal White has done adaptive sailing as well as the Special Olympics, and she loved her experiences. White competed in beanbag throwing and finished second in the wheelchair races last spring’s games. She said the Special Olympics coaches and volunteers are absolutely essential to the success of the competition.

“The way they help us compete is by setting up practice rounds,” she said, “and they require us to do 12 practices to see what level we’re on.”    

One of those coaches is Lynette May. She was a volunteer for 15 years until 2011, when she decided to become an official coach. May coaches the Frisbee activities and the 125-meter dashes. Teams are separated not by gender, but by level of skill and capability. May said the age group of athletes ranges from 20 to 80 and older – whoever wants to participate is welcome.

Lexington has many adaptive sports athletes, all of whom had to overcome their challenges to play sports. Lexington has had a lot of success getting these unique individuals who wanted to participate in sports the chance to shine, an opportunity they don’t often get.

The benefit of this program isn’t just in fitness goals achieved or medals won. More than that, it’s the sense of pride and confidence the experience gives the athletes. If they see that they can participate in these sports despite their differences, it proves to them they can do anything they want.