Adaptive Athletics event puts thrills and skills on display

University of Arizona Campus Recreation hosted “Consider Yourself Challenged,” a fundraising event for the Disability Resource Center, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and Campus Recreation. Here, adaptive athletics men's rugby players Josh Walls and Troy Davis talk about why they play.

University of Arizona Campus Recreation hosted “Consider Yourself Challenged,” a fundraising event for the Disability Resource Center, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and Campus Recreation. 

The event included a silent auction, dynamic demonstrations by adaptive athletes and opportunities to mingle with team members, coaches and representatives of the beneficiaries.

In addition to raising funds for the programs, team leaders expressed hope that the event would increase awareness of what these athletes do. 

“Athletes here at the University of Arizona, all of them train five days a week,” said head women’s wheelchair basketball coach Peter Hughes. “They follow the same rules and goals as NCAA athletes. We’re that dedicated to getting better, representing Team USA; we have a lot of Paralympians in our program, stuff like that.”

Hughes said one of the obstacles wheelchair athletes face is public perception. 

“I think a lot of people, when they first think of disabled sport, they think immediately, ‘Oh, it’s a ribbon affair for everybody that plays; everybody gets a ribbon,’” he said. “That’s not what we’re about.” 

Jennifer Poist, who will be replacing Hughes as the future women’s wheelchair basketball coach, doubled down on the competitive aspect of adaptive athletics.

“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t be active and competitive and train at a really high level,” Poist said. “We travel all across the country and play sports. We’re all really competitive, and we push ourselves to the limit.”

Event chair Barry Baker hoped the day would spread awareness about adaptive athletics and described how he hoped more people would tune in to watch adaptive matches. 

“It’s so rare that in the general public people come to watch adaptive sports,” he said. “These athletes are amazing. Just think of how hard it is for most people to get up off the couch and participate in a sport. Now you’ve got a huge physical limitation, and you’re not going to let it stop you no matter what.”

Event attendees were indeed captivated by the fast-paced scrimmages put on by the adaptive rugby and basketball teams. Many who had not watched challenged athletes play before expressed appreciation for the sports. 

Steve Dean, an Alliance Bank employee, found himself surprised at the pace of the action.

“I didn’t know what to expect with the rugby. It’s really brutal; it’s fun to watch,” he said.

TriCats athlete and learning, literacy and leadership major Rosie Makinen echoed Dean’s sentiments. 

“It’s just so cool how much talent there is despite the adversity these people face. I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

Fundraising events like these are especially important for the UA’s adaptive athletics programs, Hughes explained. Without the work of organizations like CAF, equipment and training would cost thousands of dollars. 

“Without CAF, we’d be in serious trouble, fundraising all the time instead of coaching, instead of getting ready for the Paralympics,” Hughes said.

Baker concurred. 

“When you’re physically challenged, most sports equipment is not covered by your insurance,” he said. “It could cost $15,000 or more. CAF helps those athletes get grants for equipment and also helps fund the coaching and counseling and the resources that are here at the university.”

Josh Walls, of the adaptive rugby team, described why adaptive sports are an important part of many individuals’ lives. 

“This is the kind of stuff that is gonna make you have no choice but to not feel sorry for yourself,” he said. “Because these people are in the same boat you are, and they’re out there working twice as hard as you. That’s why I joined, because it doesn’t allow you to be ‘oh, poor me.’”

Troy Davis, also of the rugby squad, summed it up a little different.

“Every day, there’s nothing better,” he said.

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