Did you know that more than 21 million Americans are living with physical and visual disabilities? Sports and physical activities offer these folks vast health benefits, including boosting self-confidence, maintaining a healthy weight, and lowering blood pressure. Now more than ever, there’s a need to develop comprehensive, community-based programs to educate Americans on the opportunities available to youth and adults with disabilities. In 2007, the U.S. Paralympics began partnering with community organizations across the country to form a vast network of Paralympic Sport Clubs that help address this need.
In the past, if you were an athlete with a disability, finding a local sports club that catered to your needs wasn’t easy. But today, there’s a wealth of clubs across the country that accommodate all people, no matter their physical limitations. From nonprofit organizations and rehabilitation hospitals to school systems, parks and recreation departments, and other community-based organizations, each of the Paralympic Sport Clubs focuses on developing a broad range of programs that help open doors for individuals with Paralympic-eligible impairments. Check out these Paralympic Sport Clubs in the Chicago area.
Founded in 1999, Adaptive Adventures gives individuals with all types of physical disabilities the chance to participate in year-round outdoor sports no matter where they live, their individual equipment needs, or their economic status. The organization offers a wide variety of programs, camps, and clinics that include cycling, kayaking, rock climbing, water skiing, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, alpine skiing, snowboarding, whitewater rafting, and even dragon boat racing.
While Lakewood, Colorado, serves as the head office for Adaptive Adventures, there’s also a satellite office in Franklin Park, Illinois, as well as a mobile program that brings adaptive sports programs to underserved communities in 30 states. As one of the top local Paralympic Sports Clubs, Adaptive Adventures believes in freedom through mobility through access to free or low-cost adaptive sports programs. Throughout the years, more than 100,000 participants and family members from across the entire country have benefited from the services provided by Adaptive Adventures.
Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA)
In 1999, Cindy Housner saw a need for more inclusive recreation, fitness, and competitive sports activities in the Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin area. She established the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) to help empower youth, adults, and injured military veterans who have a physical or visual disability through health and wellness programming. GLASA offers more than 20 different sports programs throughout the year, including everything from archery, wheelchair basketball, and sailing, to sled hockey, swimming, and yoga.
Fast forward nearly two decades, and GLASA now serves direct programming that features Paralympic and adaptive sports to nearly 1,100 individuals each year. On top of that, GLASA offers education and outreach initiatives to about 3,000 youth and adults annually. The organization’s annual Adult National Open and Great Lakes Regional Games attract Paralympic-eligible athletes from across the United States. As one of the largest sports competitions for athletes with physical or visual disabilities in the country, the multiday event features archery, powerlifting, shooting, swimming, boccia, and track-and-field programs.
Fox Valley Special Recreation Association (FVSRA)
After more than four decades of service, the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association (FVSRA) continues to grow its programs and services so all individuals, no matter their age or abilities, can lead active, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Each year, FVSRA offers more than 600 programs and special events that enrich the lives of people with disabilities, including modified in-person sport skills programs.
FVSRA creates safe spaces where an athlete with a disability feels welcome and empowered to enjoy an active, healthy, and playful lifestyle. The organization invites any individual with a disability to register for its year-round programming that’s tailored to meet the needs of the person, not the disability. Participants get the chance to take part in therapeutic recreation services, such as Special Olympics sports, day camps, and more.
Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club
Back in 2011, sports enthusiasts Keri Serota, Dan Tun, and Melissa Stockwell embarked on a new adventure together — one that focuses on triathlon in the adaptive sports community. Together, they founded Dare2tri, a nonprofit organization that helps empower individuals with physical disabilities and visual impairments through swimming, biking, and running.
Dare2tri works with athletes of all ability levels, from beginner to elite, to become more physically active and engaged with their community. For an athlete with a disability or visual impairment, such as amputation, spinal cord injury, spina bifida, or blindness, organizations like Dare2tri help build confidence, increase self-esteem, and create a sense of self-worth that reaches far beyond the disabled sports world.
Chicago Park District
Working in partnership with schools and agencies throughout the Windy City, Chicago Park District Special Recreation Unit offers a diverse range of recreational opportunities for children and adults with disabilities. As part of the special recreation program offered by the Chicago Park District, participants can take part in adaptive sports, Paralympic sports, Special Olympics, recreation and leisure programs, and more.
Programming ranges from introductory levels to competitive sports, so there’s something for everyone. Chicago Park District even hopes to create a Paralympic sports team one day. Thanks to their training in behavior management and adaptive sport skills, special recreation field staff and inclusion aides help ensure the success of the participants in any disabled sports program. Outreach and awareness activities offer insight into disabled sports, while athlete development programs give people the chance to build their skills and take part in competitive opportunities.
Are you interested in learning more about Paralympic athletics or disabled sports opportunities? If so, check out these five incredible Paralympic Sport Clubs in the Chicago area for everything you need to know about Paralympic sports. Did we miss your favorite Paralympic Sport Clubs in or near the Windy City? Then, we’d love to hear from you! Tell us all about it, and we’ll be sure to add it to our list. If you’re an athlete with a disability who wants to become a Paralympic athlete, now is the time to get involved and register at one of these Paralympic Sport Clubs!