Summer 2012 - Letter from the Program Director
Nate Berry, AccesSportAmerica Program Director offered an overview of our programs during the 2012 All-Teams Kick Off at Royal Sonesta Hotel Boston. We thought you would also enjoy.
Hi Everyone! We'd like to start by thanking everyone for your generosity; we would not be able to offer our programs without your support. This isn't just the kickoff for the regatta but it's also the unofficial kickoff of our summer! We're all geared up for a busy season, at the height of which we will have seven programs running concurrently. These include programs in partnership with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Camp Harbor View, Massachusetts Hospital School, Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, the Oak Square YMCA, CORSE Foundation, and Perkins School for the Blind. Through these programs, we are reaching over 1,700 athletes annually.
Not only do we have a busy summer but, through our year-round City Street and Training programs, we are kept on our toes during the winter as well! Our City Street program reaches a population that is severely underserved - children from the Boston Public Schools. Unfortunately this tends to be a population that struggles financially, and therefore doesn't have access to as many opportunities as others. During the school year--October through April --we offer our Conditioning & Soccer program during the school day at four Public Schools reaching students in twelve Special Education classrooms. In the Spring, we take these students from the same classrooms to paddle in our outrigger canoes at the pier at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Finally, over the summer many of our students have the opportunity to be campers at Camp Harbor View, under the direction of the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, on Long Island in the Boston Harbor. Here they can paddle, windsurf and/or play soccer with AccesSport as well as participate in numerous art and theater projects among many other camp activities. A truly special connection is made with these children because we see each other on such a consistent basis--school and camp. With your support, City Street and all our programs will continue to thrive and grow.
The Regatta is a really fun way to support all that AccesSport does. The key to these races is team unity; the best chance your team has to do well is for everyone to be working together. This gets right to the heart of AccesSport - everyone working to the best of their ability and all contributing toward a common goal. No one person is valued any more or less than the next. On race day, July 15th, please remember to bring your competitive spirits as well as your best team costumes!
To each of you, thank you very much for helping to make our entire year so exciting ~
Nathaniel Berry has been with AccesSportAmerica since 2002, serving a year as a volunteer, quickly becoming a team leader, and for the last seven years as Program Director. Nate has been instrumental in designing and implementing programs/training regimens at all of our sites. He is indefatigable in his efforts to urge our athletes to higher function. His spirit is infectious in the way he inspires all trainers/instructors to get the most out of each session. Nate's responsibilities include overseeing programs at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Camp Harbor View, Massachusetts Hospital School, Boston Public Schools, and the YMCA. A graduate of St. Michael's University, Nate is National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) Certified Personal Trainer. Nate is also an American Red Cross Certified Life Guard. AccesSportAmerica is greatly enhanced by his leadership and commitment.
I could never do a good job of sitting on a beach. As a kid I needed toy
trucks or buckets and as a, so called adult, I still need toys. I just can't
sit still by the water. That's something of our motto at AccesSport as well
- we just can't sit still. We do not allow for any of our trainers to do
anything but to be in motion. No we don't want them to play with trucks in
sand. But even in down moments they are to practice something new on a
windsurfer, do maintenance on an outrigger, try a trick on a stand up paddle
board, juggle a soccer ball, fix a cycle, or improve an adaptation as
example. Something of a blessing and curse, this community doesn't seem to
tolerate "sitting still".
The notion carries over into our programming. As we start a new summer on
the water in Boston, Our trainers are being asked about what's going to be
new on the water this year. One of the reasons we go to Florida for our
intensive training camp is to try new protocols and devices for the upcoming
warm weather in New England. This year, we developed a fairer but more
challenging means to play integrated ability soccer so all are valued and
challenged on a high level. We also toppled some windsurfing barriers with
new techniques for people with hemiplegia to sail on a mono hull windsurfer
and means for 2 athletes w/disabilities to sail together and independently
on the same board.
At times, I wish we could sit still and live in the present, celebrating the
great feats and great people who are AccesSport athletes and trainers. That
probably would be a good thing. When I was a minister I preached that the
secret to a great life is being able to live in the moment. I'm sure that
includes being able to "be" and to savor what's around us. But I could never
practice what I preached. Even now I know we've done so much with so many
people. I know that our equipment adaptations, our inventions, and our
established program is great without change. But putting our collective
AccesSport "feet" in the sand and sitting still, just doesn't work. We have
to bring something new to the program each season.
So here's to those in your lives who can't sit still. If you are one of us,
I celebrate your uneasiness and hope our lives are filled with
accomplishment. To all of you who can sit still and who can pause to
celebrate your days, I hope you can teach us the way to live in that
I hope that the remembrance of those who suffered and who still suffer from the events of 9.11.2001 will be profound and lasting. Yes the larger media can make a circus of something that is to be heartfelt and truly touching. But the ability to pause in our lives for a moment of reflection, especially as a larger community, is a gift we could all do well to possess.
When we remember the people and the events that changed us, I ask that we use the time to think of honoring and improving the best of our country. That is, at our best our nation of pacifists, innocents, and soldiers all stand for the least of us. We are as good a nation as the way we treat the most challenged economically, in spirit, and in disabilities.
On a daily basis we, the AccesSportAmerica staff, remind ourselves that we are only as good as our last session. We can never rest on yesterday's accomplishments but always work for the remarkable in our program. The same might be said to all those Americans who complacently "wave their flag" somehow ignoring the fact that so many are "left behind" in this and every other country on this planet.
If this nation is to impress the world and honor those who died 10 years ago, I believe a great start is by not forgetting those on the edge or fringe of this society. It's all of us doing better and better in our work with people living with disability. It's in support of great non-profits and causes. A great start is also in working directly or as volunteers to create a more inclusive culture. Perhaps this September may change more than a few of us and truly improve a remarkable democracy.
Note: Ross Lilley founded AccesSportAmerica in 1998 while he was the Minister of the South Acton Congregational Church in Acton, MA. In 2003, he assumed the leadership of Executive Director of AccesSportAmerica full-time.
We are so pleased to see that the R-word Campaign: Spread the Word to End the Word of Special Olympics and Best Buddies has sparked so much interest and conversation in our country.
The video message with Jane Lynch of Glee suggests that the word "retard" or the "R-word" be taken out of our daily discourse. The Campaign also asserts that the word is as demeaning and inflammatory as words like "nigger" and "kike" among other so-called minority slurs.
From our less impressive 'pulpit', we've been making the same assertions for over twenty-five years. I can remember speaking at churches, schools, and civic groups about the subject in the mid 1980's. Then, as now, I would talk about the popular usage of words like "retarded, moron, stupid, and idiot" and when I likened the impact to other forms of racism and bigotry quite a few in those audiences were offended and shocked. To suggest that ridiculing a person who lives with, triumphs over, or struggles with a disability is the same as calling another a "nigger" or "fag" insulted some who felt their struggle was more significant. The 'coalition', if you will, of support for our cause wasn't and still isn't nearly as impressive. A commentator will be fired for a racial slur or implication, but a host who bases her or his shtick on labeling "moronic" behavior gets a huge contract.
The fact is that we as humans will use anything we can to give ourselves the illusion of having some control or power in this life. If we cannot find a sense of esteem honestly, we'll do it by finding someone or some group to whom we can say inside "At least I'm not one of them." This is the root of racism, bigotry, and any form of prejudice. Furthermore, it seems that we as a culture are especially insecure about our cognitive abilities and target
those whose wisdom comes in forms not as easily understood.
We need to address the need to discriminate in general. But that is one tough argument to make and fairly subtle when talking about the human condition. So in the meantime, to address specific slurs seems to be required. When I speak to groups some are angered at me for being too "PC". I often hear that without some slurs like "moron, spaz, crazy as a loon,
psycho, and retarded" we won't have any jokes worth telling. They tell me to "Lighten up - it's all in good fun." In response, I assert that we're not being militant about being more sensitive in our language and freely admit to being fallible. Still, why not be kinder in how we speak? Why trivialize the daily struggles of people who I and everyone at AccesSportAmerica love, who live with spasticity, levels of intelligence that measure below moron, or who are bi-polar, for example?
Last evening, I just saw the R-word video message on television. My family, including my wonderful athletic and wise son who lives with cerebral palsy, spasticity, quadriplegia, and cognitive issues seemed to be impressed and grateful. Immediately following, however, was an ad for Kayak - a travel discount service. In that ad they labeled someone a moron and ridiculed an older individual for being disoriented and unaware of his world. I guess we
have a long way to go. AccesSportAmerica certainly supports Special Olympics and Best Buddies in this important Campaign. To learn more, please visit r-word.org.
Our Florida Sports Camp in March was intense. Fifteen AccesSportAmerica athletes from New England and Florida with our Instructors tested new training techniques and equipment while improving their function and fitness. Our annual camp, in partnership with Zeno Mountain Farm, was weeklong with days that were simply exhausting. The competition was also fierce as all vied to win "The Cup", a vegetable colander painted gold. At AccesSport, we do not push competition in the traditional sense. We encourage people to compete with themselves as all too often we've seen the negative side of competition. Yet, at Camp, we all responded to the positive effect of competition, especially between our three teams - Hookipa, Kihei, and Hana. We all realized exhilaration and disappointment, determination and exhaustion as we were trying to overcome a barrier within ourselves while competing with friends.
In addition, we conducted high school clinics for close to one hundred students living with disabilities in the Martin County and Palm Beach County area. The endeavor was an incredible success and we're so pleased that we could reach many lives so dramatically.
Sports Camps and our School Clinics also impact our year-round programming. The most notable addition this year, as a result, will be creating more formal competitions while ensuring that each person understands how valuable he/she is, whether on an outrigger canoe team or an obstacle course race with a cycle.
For our athletes, there were definite improvements in function, drive, and overall happiness - community can do that too. Being a part of a community, a team or meaningful competition can do that as well. We will continue to use every tool we have to influence higher overall function. Good, friendly competition will be a part for sure.
I often hear our athletes say "I'm doing the best I can!" when one of our trainers exhorts
them to excel. We hear this on the water while windsurfing, during work-outs at the gym,
and on the field during a soccer drill. This phrase is often followed by - "I simply can't
do this, I just can't". When this phrase is recited, we have to decide whether to back
off before we lose our athlete totally or to push onward. My inclination, after assessing
safety and health, is almost always to push on. It's not that I don't take our athletes
seriously; it's just that our goal is to urge people to higher level of function and fitness.
Scituate Sports Camp, photos courtesy of the C.O.R.S.E Foundation, an AccesSportAmerica Program Partner
You see, as much as we hear expressions in sport and society about how we are a "can do
people", we are actually more a "can not do culture". We're so used to having everything
at our finger tips that we expect success to come easily. We don't have the patience to truly
train and learn. We want the "Disney ride" over the longer, tougher road towards being fit
and accomplished as an athlete or person.
As an example, we are very well versed in adaptive windsurfing. In fact, we often say that
we probably know more about adaptive windsurfing than anyone in this country -- we have,
after all, been adapting and teaching the sport since the early 1980's. The way we teach
windsurfing assists us in how to teach and train in other AccesSportAmerica sports.
We aim for early success and can get people on boards in a ½ hour, but true independent
windsurfing takes time and skill. It's not like Jet Skiing where one sits on a seat and turns
a throttle. Windsurfing is a rewarding sport because much is overcome to truly windsurf
skillfully. Yet, even as we measure success with challenge, we often find that athletes want
total independence during their first lesson and say "I can't do this!" after only a few minutes
on the water. We almost always overcome these challenges and find the greatest rewards as
our athletes gain skills over time.
The same applies to training. We maintain that years and years after birth with a disability
as well as years and decades after an injury, we can train an athlete to higher function and
conditioning. Some may set a goal to walk 10 miles with a cane with a year of training; others
may need a decade of training to ride a cycle for a half hour after an incomplete spinal injury.
Still, we have become an inpatient people and many wonder why, after a month of training,
they can't see any change in their body image or push to stand in a walker. To be a true
athlete and to gain conditioning, it takes work and commitment.
To be a "can do people" who truly "do their best", we have to persist and persevere. I
am an optimist, as are all of our AccesSportAmerica Instructors and Trainers. We know
that independence and success can be achieved in all of our sports, in hard but measured
training, and within a supportive community. We are so pleased by the accomplishments of
our AccesSportAmerica athletes this past summer. We saw more independent windsurfers,
straight and quiet paddlers and long distance run/walk/push athletes than any other year of
our existence. I hope they and others in your lives who strive towards the best they can do
will inspire you.
Boston Breakers', L-R, Kasey Moore, Kristine Lilly, Leslie Osborne and Jordan Angeli with Ross Lilley at Harvard Stadium for athletes from AccesSportAmerica's City Street program, in-school program for youth living with disabilities in partnership with the Boston Public Schools
Regularly, we recruit professional and elite athletes to inspire our athletes living with disabilities. Honorary Board member Bill Belichick has involved our athletes at the Patriots Training Camp. The Boston Bruins are planning a conditioning and street hockey clinic with us for the Fall. Three of our training consultants, Gary Piantedosi, Tom Bohrer and Carey Sands-Bohrer, are world-class and Olympic rowers. The Red Sox are inspiring us to create a baseball and conditioning program. In short, elite athletes somehow reach through the most profound cognitive and physical barriers and make us all want to perform on a higher level.
This certainly was the case during our annual soccer and conditioning clinic at Jordan Field at Harvard University. We've held this clinic for the past three years with soccer great, Kristine Lilly. This year, over 120 of our year round athletes from our City Street program, our in-school program in partnership with the Boston Public Schools, were joined by the Boston Breakers soccer team. The Breakers participated in our drills and games, and immediately we could see the level pick up. Somehow, our athletes seemed to sense that these were some of the greatest women soccer players in the world. It was a wonderful phenomenon as our athletes had the impetus to reach higher and feel their athletic feat honored. With world class athletes by their side, they begin to understand that their play is world-class as well. For what else might we say when a person living with autism can perform a scissors move under pressure or a youth with cerebral palsy in a walker can do a pull back move in a game? These are extraordinary feats given the individual challenges of each.
We thank Harvard University for providing the space, not only for this clinic but for our weekly conditioning sessions at their indoor facilities. We also wish to thank the Boston Breakers for their continued inspiration in our community.
[Click to enlarge image]
Each fall and winter we partner with Zeno Mountain Farm and run a high intensity Sports Camp. In early March, our winter Sports Camp took place in Jensen Beach, Florida at the River Palm Cottages. 30 athletes and trainers from New England and Florida competed and trained from early morning until evening. All were vying for the Winter Sports Camp Cup. 16 of those participating live with a significant disability but joined one of three teams of integrated abilities for the week long camp.
The Sports Camp is proving ground for new techniques and equipment that we will use at AccesSportAmerica this year. The camp is also an opportunity to push our athletes to new levels of conditioning which are difficult to reach when training once or twice/week in our greater Boston programs. Over the week, we perform land based exercises, interval training and road work as well as instruction and training in Hawaiian Outrigger Canoeing, track, tennis and soccer. Because almost all of the athletes have attended the camp for years, we pursued more advanced techniques in all of these sports.
The teams created for the event were:
Team Kihei - Peter Halby, Ila Halby, Craig Wallace, Zach Gottsagen, Josh Lilley, Jean Lilley, Jeff Booras, Brad Wheelwright, Melissa Harrell and Steve Kutasz
Team Hanai - Will Halby, Marina Shelton, John Blair, Matt Esterman, Christen Fackler, Amanda Brodeur, Fan Pope, Ben Bosbach, Morgan Gallagher and Hanna Lilley
Team Lahainai - Nate Berry, Merissa Wolf, Jane Stachoviak, Mark Young, Carla Trodella, Alec Bandler, Andrew Kirby, Emily Skinner and Ross Lilley
Each team cared deeply about winning and the spirit of encouragement coupled with competition was quite intense by the last day of competition. Team Kihei had enough points from soccer, tennis, outrigger and road racing to almost walk away with the cup. They just needed to win one last outrigger race or two of the last soccer games. Hana was in second and Lahaina was all but done. But somehow Lahaina's team found new life and won their first race of the week and when the soccer competition came around, every team was virtually tied. Hana, however, had too many great defenders and won every soccer game and walked away with the Cup.
To the outside world, our competition between 30 athletes/friends might seem insignificant. But to us, who saw athletes run after years being sedentary, or with perfect timing and switches as a team paddling, or a well executed ball reception and touch pass in soccer--at this camp, this was the world. In one week, we created a competition and a supportive community that demanded everything we had emotionally and physically.
In camp, we proved that we are all compelling athletes at any age and with our unique abilities. So congratulations to Team Hana!
PS Your gift of $50, $100, $150, $250, $500, $1000+ will make a real difference!
You may contribute on line at AccesSportAmerica.org/Support or mail your check, made payable to AccesSportAmerica, to AccesSportAmerica, 119 High Street, Acton, MA 01720.
We witnessed more skillful and brave athletic performances this summer than ever before. Our athletes, even with a few sessions, gained new skills matched with confidence, and for some, even a little swagger.
In November, we'll move off the water for six months. Many of our athletes from the woman who can now windsurf independently to the child with quadriplegia who somehow can paddle two handed with our bent paddle ask, "Well, what are we going to do now?"
The months off the water are some of our very best. With our ongoing quality training and conditioning with sports, our athletes stay involved in the progression of building on newfound capabilities and strengths.
During the next six months, our Conditioning and Sports program in collaboration with Harvard Athletes continues at Harvard Stadium. For the first time, veterans from the VA Hospitals will be joining us, as a result of participating in our High-Challenge Water Sports program this summer. Our intensive Personal Training program continues at the Oak Square YMCA in Brighton and our After School Conditioning and Soccer program in Concord, Boxboro and Acton.
City Street, our in-school Conditioning and Soccer program in collaboration with the Boston and Quincy Public Schools, will expand with adequate funding and the commitment of our Volunteer Instructors. This summer some of our City Street athletes were campers at Camp Harbor View where our high-challenge sports program was offered for the first time.
Our intensive, one week Sports Camps annually in California and Florida in partnership with Zeno Mountain are already at capacity. To accommodate those on the waiting list and other athletes interested in participating, we are planning several weekend Sport Camps at Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont.
This year over 1500 participated in our summer program with 400 now participating year round.
We hope you'll join us in believing in and supporting the compelling mission of AccesSportAmerica and our amazing Athletes as we continue to realize our mission to inspire children and adults through high-challenge sports to achieve higher function and fitness, and a healthier life.
I believe, with all my heart, that we're at our best when we find something
very simple in common with another person and connect. Too often we try to
create or reinforce difference for own esteem. That is, we may be ever so
proud to be: an American, a Red Sox or Yankee fan, still looking younger
than our peers, better at most in a sport, more clever with facts and
figures, or almost anything to create distinction. It's part of the human
condition that we create our own differences to feel like we're a little
above the rest - even if for a moment. In truth, so many of us waste time in
competition with others instead of living in true community. But what if we
competed only with ourselves and put more energy into looking for those
simple connection points with others?
I hope that this is what we try to live out as athletes and trainers in our
AccesSport community. Life is quite good when we feel no distinction or
difference between an athlete living with a profound disability and trainers
who have no perceptible disability. And I don't mean that life is good when
we have a realization that "It could just as easily be me..." I don't think
that is the best connection point anyway. When people feel compassion for
others using phrases like "..but for the grace of God, there go I." they
miss the point on living in solidarity. They're just glad the bus ran over
someone else or the disease ran through another house. True connection, at
least for me, is usually based on what we truly share as a very basic joy in
life. This could be a returned smile, a touch on a shoulder, a playful punch
in the arm, feeling a windsurf sail tug when filled with wind, the solid hit
of a ball in the sweet spot of a tennis racquet, seeing sweat drip for the
first time with an athlete training in a racing chair, or being a true part
of a Hawaiian Outrigger team. Connection is, as example, a shared laugh when
my partner with a soccer ball whacks a pass into my leg in jest. In that
moment, neither of us thinks about his low affect and other manifestations
of his living with Autism or the fact that I'm a little hobbled with a knee
injury. We share that we are both kids inside who can be happy with the
We might say that AccesSportAmerica is built on a foundation of community.
And that community is based on finding true connections and commonalities.
Most of what we share in common is very simple and childlike. People often
tell our trainers and especially me, that we are all just big kids. That is
truly a great complement because that is where we may share our greatest
We continue to devote time
and thought to our strategic plan - the process is on-going. With clearly
defined goals and initiatives, we continue to out perform
our expectations each year.
I'm not sure why, but the
process makes me chuckle. Strategic planning can be folly when a key
goal for all of our programs is to meet the needs of any child or adult
who comes to us.
No matter how well we plan,
children and adults living with disabilities come to us with new needs
which are so compelling; so we adapt our planning and create programming.
While remaining responsible to our many supporters and loyal athletes,
we can rarely say "no" to those in need near us. This is how our
program, "City Street" became one of our most prominent efforts.
Initially, we worked with a few youth living with disabilities from
Boston neighborhoods six summers ago. We discovered that they were the
tip of a proverbial iceberg of children and youth in Boston who could
greatly benefit from our water sports programs and conditioning/function
training throughout the year. Now hundreds of greater Boston children
and youth work with us year round both on the water and in their schools.
In fact, we just conducted our second successful annual City Street
Soccer Clinic with Kristine Lilly and the Boston Breakers at Harvard
Stadium with thanks to Harvard Athletics.
Most recently a need we've
all known has caused us to make another addition to our programming.
This summer, we're creating a six week program for veterans wounded
in recent conflicts. The program, actually, will not be restricted and
we won't turn away veterans from other eras, but the stories of newly
"Wounded Warriors" have moved us.
We will teach rowing and Hawaiian
Outrigger Canoeing at Community Rowing in Watertown to supplement their
on-going adaptive rowing program. We'll implement adaptations we've
already created for rowing and paddling, and hope to refine new technologies
with the help of our collaborators at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital,
Boston. Our high-challenge water sports program--adaptive windsurfing,
rowing and kayaking, as example--now in its tenth year is at three
sites in Massachusetts: Boston's Charles River from the Pier at Spaulding
Rehabilitation Hospital; Canton's Reservoir Pond at the Massachusetts
Hospital School and Nantucket's Jetties' Beach. I'm confident
that this new program will be as successful as our ongoing partnerships
with Spaulding, The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, Perkins School
for the Blind, Mass. Hospital School Summer Camp, Nantucket Community
Sailing and others.
I'm so grateful that we have
the freedom and the support to meet these needs and effect great change
in these times. We are hopeful for the future with our athletes, our
new friends, our supporters and certainly for the growth of existing
and new programs as we continue to plan "strategically" for many
hopeful days ahead.
Recently much has been noted regarding
the movie Tropic Thunder and language which was possibly demeaning
about people living with disabilities. At AccesSportAmerica we engage
in frequent discussions about "correct" language and inclusive
language. Our belief is that without being militant or self-righteous in enforcement, we should all be more conscientious and use kinder, more inclusive language. Tropic Thunder is a Ben Stiller/Jack Black
movie that may intend to push the envelope and challenge boundaries.
Without condemning or endorsing the movie, I'd say that at the very
least, the movie has begun a larger discussion that needs to occur in
Generally, we are quite good as a society
in reigning in most bigoted language. In public discourse ethnic slurs
are pretty much forbidden as are racist remarks. We even say "The
'N' word" in reference to racist remarks which ridicule or belittle
African Americans, as example. Yet, rarely, if ever do we hear people
use the same restraint designating "The 'M' word" instead
of the word "moron" or "The 'R' word" referring
to the word "retarded". One can no easier change their cognitive
capabilities than the color of one's skin or their ancestry. Yet the
belittling language that comes courtesy of people living with disabilities
is almost blessed in our culture.
Listen to many talk shows on the radio
for your proof. Especially in the sports radio section of the dial,
shock jocks are rightfully horrified by the slightest racist remark
but almost welcome and happily participate in equally offensive dialogue
using words and phrases like "moron", "retarded",
"idiot", "spaz", "crazy as a loon", "dumb
as a bag of rocks", and so many others. We also know the very popular
series of "... for Dummies" self help books that no one seems
to be pulling from the shelves. The language isn't aimed directly at
people living with physical or cognitive challenges, or people living
with mental illness necessarily. But the language certainly belittles
the triumphs and struggles of a life dealing with significant disability.
I know many people with disabilities
who aren't bothered by this language. I also know many who aren't sensitive
to the offending nature of slurs aimed at people living with disabilities.
I've even heard some of our athletes remark "I may be in a wheelchair,
but at least I'm not retarded." - a way of distancing themselves
from an opportunity for solidarity. I hope this isn't the voice we all
hear. I also hope we don't listen too carefully to those who think this
is just another Politically Correct way of trying to control speech.
Critics of inclusive or politically correct language claim that eventually,
no one will be able to venture outside the lines of convention. That
may or may not be correct, but here's what many of us hope for at AccesSportAmerica:
We like inclusive language, because,
very simply, the language creates a kinder community and world. Thinking
of how language can offend someone in a daily struggle helps us become
better human beings. I, personally don't consider my life easier or harder
than anyone else because we have a son living with cerebral palsy and
quadriplegia. Yet, my heart breaks when I hear the insensitive language
around us in this culture. I wonder who will speak for my son. I think
of all the people I have come to love who are AccesSport athletes and
how we're not appreciative or in solidarity.
I am not suggesting we cease to push
the envelope and challenge each other with satire and great comedy -
we can't take ourselves too seriously (I am also someone who pushes
boundaries). But as trite as this sounds, being kinder in our language
can make a huge difference for all of us and change our worlds dramatically.
We often talk about "Community" here at AccesSportAmerica. This is our most powerful tool to succeed in reaching for more function and fullness in our lives. Community is established in every session and as we move forward together in our challenges. But we all experience this sense of being together differently. Our approach to each athlete and instructor is unique but still we need to find something in common. With all the differing personalities and styles, disabilities and gifts, I often wonder how we manage to connect. But, we do connect.
We find commonality and connection when, for example, some athletes and instructors work well with physical touch and guidance that is literally hand over hand. Others in the same group live with sensory issues and need a "touch" that is far from physical and more emotional. Still, they may thrive in the same outrigger team on the water, or be equally involved in a soccer drill. We may be more or less verbal, powerfully attentive for hours or intensely engaged for moments, fully of stamina or participating in short bursts - but mysteriously we can all be a part of the same AccesSport community.
Our community is based on a trust and unspoken understanding that we will accomplish something great in our sessions together. Especially as we come to the summer I can feel the excitement building in this community. Those working out through the winter months are ready to transfer their conditioning and strength onto water sports or a new cycle or outdoor tennis. Programs are year-round in Florida and New England; new programs are starting. Athletes and instructors can't wait to try out new boards, boats, adaptations, and skills. The excitement that transcends any new piece of equipment however, is how community is found and grows each day. I hope you'll take time to learn more about us and in your own way, become a part of us.
In our AccesSportAmerica community of athletes and trainers, I'm known for asking questions. I ask many questions about goals, what motivates people and basically what makes our athletes "tick". Often my questions and our discussions get quite personal. I'm fascinated when we go beyond talk of pushing a wheelchair with greater strength, windsurfing faster, paddling better with a new adaptive outrigger paddle, or other athletic feats. Beyond all of that is function and healing that isn't dependent on physical or cognitive function. Beyond the sports and training regimens is filling a void inside which makes any person feel unfulfilled or in need of healing.
I'm not sure what being healed or whole truly means. I'd like to think we can find moments in which the mind and body simply don't matter that much. I hope for moments in which we realize that we are much more than the material side of living and can find wholeness and happiness just as we are. Still, some could say this is hard to imagine or attain when physical disability and mental or cognitive issues or pain constantly hammer at our being. (I can't speak for all, but to have a taste of disability with a son who lives with quadriplegia and too immersed in the lives of my friends who are AccesSport athletes gives me a little clue. ) Given the choice for the healing of disability or to feel healed and whole inside many would chose the former. It's so hard to get beyond the temporal/physical side of our lives or to envision life outside the struggles of each day.
Still, I believe we have times in which we, in this community, feel lifted up and to be on a plane in which we know healing. Sometimes after a great workout, for example, I see the look on an athlete's face. She could be working out from a wheelchair, or he could be run/walking with assistance across a tennis court--but the work-out is exhausting and rewarding. They feel they have truly challenged their whole being. They've done something great for their bodies and their minds. These athletes have overcome a challenge with a relative determination, skill, and athleticism which they uniquely own. The best that they brought to that work-out is as compelling as the most elite athlete. To me, those moments are an example of being healed. Those times give us all a sense that we are winning and overcoming.
We can find higher function in a physical and cognitive sense in AccesSportAmerica. We are documenting that. But more importantly, I'm convinced we are finding other forms of healing and wholeness, that far surpass the ability to walk, run, or to even jump over a building.
As you look through our website, you'll see that we love summer. Sure we love winter opportunities like skiing, but we're trying to overcome the perception that fall/winter means being more sedentary. All year-round, people need to move, not just from room to room or in a car, but to propel themselves over significant distances. We all need to escape the feeling of living indoors and stretch our senses to take in larger spaces.
We are doing our very best to make sure that summer never ends. This is why we create opportunities which are summer oriented throughout the year. As example:
Quite simply, fall and winter are no longer dreaded by our athletes, trainers and volunteers. We successfully stay connected all year in warm locations which are made so by environment and community. Take a look at our opportunities and see if one will help you feel the same warmth our athletes feel through these next 12 months.
Our Florida High-Challenge Sports program, based in Jensen and Palm Beaches, offers water sports year round as well as tennis and soccer.
Our Massachusetts High-Challenge Sports program, with water sports at Boston's Spaulding Pier, Canton's Reservoir Pond and Nantucket's Jetties Beach, is outside on the water and the pathways of Boston until November. From November to May, we offer Tennis & Conditioning as well as Soccer & Conditioning in field houses and large gyms.
Year round our athletes train in our Function & Fitness program.
Intense, one week/overnight sports camps are held annually in California in partnership with The Cheshire Project, Guatemala in collaboration with the Stars of Massachusetts and in Florida, a part of our year round program.
Summer 2007 We are surprised each summer at the direction or emphasis in our program. Early on, during our first few years, we windsurfed during 90% of our sessions. We had a heavy emphasis on independent windsurfing. Each year, as other sports were introduced, the emphasis shifted. One year, we had many water-skiers, another year kayakers, and last year was the year of performance Hawaiian Outrigger Paddling. I'm not sure about this year yet, but I sense, we may experience a resurgence of interest in windsurfing. We have some new equipment and techniques that could lead to higher performance windsurfingespecially for our seated athletes. But yet, Outrigger Canoeing could be the emphasis with some new paddles and techniques. Regardless, we will let the process flow on its ownthe spirit within AccesSportAmerica will guide us.
You see, from the beginning, this program has had a mind and spirit of its own. We plan and prepare quite extensively for each year, but we always allow for a little mystery and, what we could call, "miracle" in these programs from Boston to Palm Beach to Guatemala to Venice Beach and to Nantucket. The intangible aspects of AccesSportAmerica humble us. We can't plan for an athlete's determination and spirit. We don't always know what instructors might use for inspiring athletes, offering insight, or support at just the right time. Invention and innovation come to us in moments in the night, or in the workshop, and quite often in the middle of a session. In short, somehow performances and function are elevated because we don't try to control every aspect of each season and every session.
This summer, I'm looking forward to being surprised and giving into the mystery of working with remarkable athletes. Please explore our site to see what events and programs might be of interest. Our 2007-2008 year truly begins right now. The Mayor's Cup Regatta is the kick off event and the most impressive and inspiring gathering of the year. The surprises and new winning boats make the day incredible. This summer will surely follow in similar fashion.
Spring 2007 The AccesSport Community Model
I often wonder about the way I'd describe the relationship between AccesSportAmerica athletes and our trainers. Are we friends, gym or water "buddies", cut and dried professionals/clients?
As backgroundfor close to twenty years before AccesSportAmerica became full time, I was a minister with a parish. In that life, I frequented support meetings with other ministers and rabbis. We'd talk about the rigors of the job, current theological trends, balancing family and "the job", and other issues unique to our vocation. A question that often arose was whether our parishioners could also be our friends. Some felt it "unprofessional" to be friends much as the psychotherapist/patient model would deem that relationship inappropriate. Others thought that the lines were a little blurry and to be genuine, we had to be immersed in the lives of the congregation. I was and remain a part of the school of thought which believes rabbis and ministers must be a part of the congregation and immersed in that life to be truly present.
Similarly, and without the religious implications, I believe that the relationship between our trainers and our athletes and their families has to be based on something far deeper than a purely professional model. We are all professionals with a unique skill set. We are all trained to reach out and find something in each athlete that is fantastic and compelling. We are also trained to confidently and competently bring athletes with disabilities to a higher plane of performance and function. We help our athletes succeed in areas into which they never dreamt they'd venture. To accomplish these feats, we have to become a part of our athletes' lives and have unique relationships. Somehow describing that relationship as a friendship seems a little trite. But ÒfriendshipÓ is perhaps one of the best ways is to describe how we work. Athletes and trainers each reach out and engage in a partnership in the gym, on the field, and on the water. Certainly, we each are part of a strong give and take process.
I'm sure that we don't reach every one of our athletes as we would like, but this is the mission we ask every instructor to take on. The obvious lesson is that every person, regardless of ability, has something that makes them wonderful, inside. The intensity and fun of AccesSportAmerica makes the search and discovery of the gem within each, that much easier. The common goal is to achieve more than ever thought possibleto make friends with athletes and trainers who, without AccesSportAmerica, might not have ever met or shared anything in common before.
As summer approaches, we are challenged to be even better trainers, better athletes, and to find common ground that creates a great community.
Have you ever wondered when an athlete says"I did my absolute best"that he/she truly gave it their all? We all have listened to interviews after an event when an athlete says"We put it all on the court" or "I couldn't have gone another step" or, as expressed in rowing, "We left it all in the boat".
Short of collapsing from exhaustion, I doubt that many of these athletes exerted themselves to the absolute limit. These days we are experiencing what I call "Performance Evaluation Inflation". This is when an elite professional athlete celebrates and self-promotes excessively for routine plays, which seem to be an all-time. Athletes are our role models setting the bar for achievement, subtlety guiding our behavior and sports performance. All too often what happens in the professional arena trickles down to the playground and gym. If we see a dance in the end zone on Sunday, it will be repeated on some playground by Monday. If we watch a soccer player roll in agony to fake an injury for a call on a Thursday night, dozens of imitators will pull the same stunt in their games that week. If an athlete huffs, puffs, and fakes exhaustion after a mediocre performance, we soon believe that we can reach our limits too soon and too easily.
At AccesSportAmerica, we are concerned with this trend toward "Performance Evaluation Inflation". Working with athletes living with disabilities, we often encounter a lower set of standards or benchmarks for performance that seems acceptable but it is not. One step above being a "couch potato" is an improvement over doing nothing, but it's hardly enough. Our programs are safe and we hardly push our athletes to the edge of exhaustion, but we encourage our athletes to train as athletes.
As the able-bodied population is pushed and prodded to elevate their heart rate in exercise 3-4 times/week for a half hour or more, it is our goal for people living with a disability to not settle for 5 minutes of hardly breaking a sweat in exercise once a week, but to find a sport that challenges them and that they love, and to train year round as if their life were worth it and depends on it as it does.
I believe we at AccesSportAmerica are making great strides in helping people to see themselves as athletes regardless of ability and finding ways to condition our athletes with imagination, safe practices and a great deal of fun. Winter in New England is a time to get going and to go a step above in ability, effort, and conditioning. We are training our athletes through our Function+Fitness program, which includes adaptive soccer, tennis and medically prescribed gym training programs. During May-October, we will be on the water again with our adaptive High-Challenge Water Sports program adaptive windsurfing, outrigger canoeing and kayaking. In Florida, our High-Challenge Water Sports program is now year round.
At AccesSportAmerica, we are the antidote to "Performance Evaluation Inflation". We will push and prod our athletes beyond expectation. Join us.