“Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I am not handicapped.”
I am an avid runner. I love everything about participating in a race. I love the rigor and exhaustion of training, the crowd at the start line, the sense of accomplishment at the finish. I enjoy picking up my race packet and posting my bib in competition with my spouse, on the wall. At the end of a race, my physical and mental rewards are indescribable. There is nothing else in life I do that makes me feel more alive.
One of my favorite stories is that of Team Hoyt. This father and son duo, Dick and Rick, is a Boston Marathon legend having finished 31 Boston Marathon races. Rick, who has Cerebral Palsy, is quadriplegic, and cannot walk or talk on his own. However, his parents insisted on immersing Rick in activities for him to enjoy a life as normal as possible. When a group of engineers at Tufts University built a computer that Rick could use through a series of head taps to communicate, his first words were “Go Bruins,” in support of his hometown team competing for the Stanley Cup.
When Rick was 13, he told his dad that he wanted to participate in a five-mile run for a paralyzed Lacrosse player. So, Dick pushed Rick in his wheel chair and finished the race second to last. Rick typed a message to his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I am not handicapped.” Since then, Team Hoyt embarked on a racing journey to include over 1,000 distance races and triathlons. They have run across the country, participated in Iron Man competitions, and are the face of the Boston Marathon that is complete with a bronze statue of Team Hoyt.
Recreational activities are vital to the social, psychological, and developmental well-being of disabled children, teens, and adults. The benefits are immense, from developing self-confidence and language skills, to social interaction and trauma therapy. Everyday volunteers are helping developmentally disabled people participate in activities previously unheard of, to experience the exhilaration enjoyed by non-disabled people.
Martha, a previous member of my staff, was disabled due to polio. She had difficulty walking, and was aided by crutches. When, as a teenager, her family visited Yosemite National Park, she was told to stay home because she could not walk very far. So, when the Access Leisure Program in our department hosted a Yosemite hike for disabled adults, staff encouraged Martha to go. She went, she hiked, and she returned the next week beaming with confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
Organizations that provide recreational activities and therapy are typically non-profit and vigorously compete for funding. Services depend on the contributions of volunteers, who enable those with disabilities to break through barriers and enjoy the exhilaration of sports and recreation. Organizations such as Kids and Horses in Minden, NV and Access Leisure in Sacramento, CA are two of my favorites, but there are MANY more in need of help. Find what is available in your community and make a difference!
How are you volunteering to help people with disabilities? Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!