Adaptive Sports impact people with physical disabilities and greater community

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In a world designed for the able-bodied, Turnstone is an “oasis of opportunity” where people with physical disabilities can be themselves.  From the vantage point of a father and coach, Jim Labas explains that for people with disabilities “to be able to participate fully in something, to be able to interact with people in the same situation and build that circle of support” is invaluable.  His son Luke is pursuing a college degree and plays on the Turnstone Flyers Power Soccer team.  Luke hopes that his platform with the Turnstone sports programs will encourage the general public to relate to people with disabilities.  He says, the public “may be fearful of people with disabilities,” or they “don’t know what to say.”  He continues, “if they see how we address each other, they can address us the same way.”

WANE-TV Community Affairs Director recently spoke to active participants in the adaptive sports and recreational program at Turnstone, and to leadership.  Executive Director, Nancy Louraine agrees that sports and recreation are more than just fun.  Her 40 years of experience with people with disabilities (24 years at Turnstone) as well as research shows that adults and children who participate in sports programs have proven positive physical and psychological effects, are more active in the community and have better social and communication skills.  For example, “being a member of a sports team or participating in recreational activity enhances the psychological well being of children and adults with disabilities by forming friendships, expressing creativity, developing a self-identity and fostering meaning and purpose in life,” she says.

JoMale Collier uses the fitness center which is wheelchair accessible and equipped with adaptable workout equipment and weights.  In the four years he has been working out at Turnstone, he has lost weight, feels healthier, and can do more.  He has also joined a rowing team and enjoys practicing with them.  He gives a positive attitude back to his team.  He says, “they encourage me and I encourage them.”

Sisters Molly and Nina Welfle describe the varsity Wheelchair Basketball team as “fun and energetic”.  It’s a co-ed team.  Practice sessions lasts about three hours, three times a week.  Playing on the successful team involves quite a bit of traveling.  They compete in Indiana, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Molly hopes to be a role model to others with disabilities.  She says that support is enabling; “someone who is always there constantly pushing you, pushing you, that you can do basically, whatever.”  Nina appreciates the outlet that basketball gives her to be independent, “when we win . . . it’s a feeling that’s indescribable.”

For individuals or families that are looking for ways to get involved, Coach Bob Burnsworth  recommends giving sports a chance.  He was disabled in 1988 due to an accident.  The resulting wheelchair changed his life dramatically on all levels.  But his attitude today is strongly affirming.  He doesn’t stay at home, isolated.  He says, “There’s life outside these four walls.”  Burnsworth played competitive wheelchair basketball and other adaptive sports himself, and was a part of the impetus to begin Turnstone’s Basketball program in 1993.  Today he coaches the Turnstone varsity Wheelchair Basketball Team.  Last month, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) presented Burnsworth with the Ed Owen Coach of the Year Award.  He told WANE that “basketball has been an avenue for me that has made my world better than it was ever going to be.”  After 25 years of coaching kids he’s convinced that sports can improve breathing, strength, drive for life, and who knows, it might even mean a full scholarship ride playing college basketball.  Talking about his team he says, “we give the best we can.”  Talking to all of us he cautions “if that door shuts on you, don’t let it shut you down!”

Turnstone is designated as a Paralympic Sports Club.  That designation means a lot of things, but according to Nancy Louraine, it carries the potential to “create an entire new market of visitors to Fort Wayne.”  In 2013, Turnstone generated over *$800,000 in direct economic impact for the city of Fort Wayne by hosting 22 weekend tournaments.  A planned expansion of the Turnstone facility on North Clinton Street could more than double that value.  It’s phase two of the Turnstone of Tomorrow plan, and calls for a 100,000 square foot add-on including an adaptive sports and recreational field house, warm water pool, lockers, space for therapy health and wellness and an updated administration area.   She continues, “Paralympic sports have arrived as a viable spectator sport and revenue generator.  As the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have produced thousands of wounded veterans, the value of Paralympic and adaptive sports as a means of rehabilitation is greater than ever. Athletes with disabilities are seeking training facilities, coaching and opportunities to participate in their sport.”  For more about Turnstone, visit the website, Turnstone.org or call 260-483-2100. *Figure is calculated with a formula by Visit Fort Wayne and the National Association of Sports Commission.

Local student and Turnstone Wheelchair Basketball player, Molly competed in Fort 4 Fitness
Student and Turnstone Wheelchair Basketball player, Molly competed in the Fort 4 Fitness 4 Mile Walk
Nina at the Fort 4 Fitness 4 Mile Walk event in her Wheelchair Basketball chair
Sister Nina at the Fort 4 Fitness 4 Mile Walk event in her Turnstone Wheelchair Basketball chair