UNI Adapted Sports Camp Provides More Than Sports Opportunity

By Dylan Montz (Story) and Scott Saville (Video), Reporters

Karlee Hughes, 7, of Dakota Dune, South Dakota, tries out a handcycle during the first day of UNI Adapted Sports Camp at the University of Northern Iowa's Mark Messersmith Outdoor Track and Field Complex on Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Cedar Falls. Karlee, the youngest athlete at the camp, already plays softball and basketball and was using a handcycle for the first time. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Each year when the UNI Adapted Sports Camp is held on the Cedar Falls campus, it provides something no other summer camp in Iowa can.

Now in its seventh year, the camp teaches young people from second grade through high school with lower limb disabilities how to play sports adapted for wheelchairs. Camp co-director Jack Eherenman said the camp is mostly used as an introduction to the sports in wheelchairs and to other people with similar disabilities.

“Some don’t even know it’s out there,” Eherenman said of the opportunities to participate in many different sports. “Some have never seen anybody else with a disability in their community. They don’t even know there are other kids like them out there. Then they learn there are sports they can do. They learn how to do the sports and we provide them with equipment.”

The camp offers eight different sports for the campers and runs from Wednesday through Saturday with a dozen participants throughout the four days. It also provides equipment for campers to use such as wheelchairs adapted to play basketball as well as race on a running track.

It was Wednesday morning that Karlee Hughes, a 7-year-old from Dakota Dunes, S.D., first learned how to complete her first mile on the track under her own power. Growing up and watching her siblings play sports is a big part of Karlee’s life and something her mom, Missy, said she has wanted to do for herself.

“She’s the only one in our school and community in a wheelchair so we don’t have a lot of this,” Missy said of the Adapted Sports Camp. “No matter what the age here, they’re all connecting. [Wednesday] they played telephone and Minute to Win It. She was just giggling and it just melted my heart. I love that she’s able to be around peers and relate to other people.”

Karlee said she is most looking forward to “learning new things and meeting new people.” She is also enthused with the chance to play wheelchair basketball, a love that fellow camper and coach Jordan Houdeshell of Marion shares. Houdeshell has been attending the camp for the last five years and has really connected each year with new campers.

“I love teaching new kids how to play sports,” Houdeshell said. “The excitement in their eyes makes me excited. The problem with adaptive sports is that nobody knows about it. We need to get the word out so we have more disabled people getting out and playing sports instead of just sitting at home being a couch potato.”

Even though the camp is centered around sports, for those involved, it is about much more than that. Sports are something the campers learn, Eherenman said, that will be a catalyst to help them with the challenges they will face in everyday life.

“The only difference between our athletes and a lot of other athletes is that they play it in a chair,” Eherenman said. “They have a lot of the same wants, desires, needs and everything. They just have a different way of playing a sport and their barriers are a lot bigger.”

Mike Boone, director of Adaptive Sports Iowa, is one of the providers of the equipment the campers use. Seeing them use the modified chairs is something that is “life-changing” for those kids.

“If you take that kid and put them in a chair that’s designed specifically for racing, all of a sudden they are going faster,” Boone said. “You take that kid and put them in a sports chair, they can be very aggressive and turn sharp. When you provide them with that piece of equipment, their whole perspective changes because now they can compete at a higher level.”

More information on the camp can be found on Facebook by joining the UNI Adapted Sports Camp group, or by contacting Jack Eherenman at jeconstruction@hotmail.com
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