As the mother of a child with spina bifida, Lisa Followay realized that athletic opportunities for physically disabled individuals were limited. Since being physically active is both fun and essential for living a healthy lifestyle, Followay knew she had to make a change.
In 2009, she founded The Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio (ASPO). This statewide nonprofit organization promotes and provides health and wellness opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities.
According to Courtney Kurth, Outreach Director for ASPO, 150 Ohioans of all ages with physical disabilities take part in their sport programs, with programming in Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Toledo and Youngstown.
Dream. Excel. Inspire
ASPO’s motto, “Dream. Excel. Inspire.,” summarizes the mission of the organization. Kurth explains that each word represents a different level of programming.
“Dream” is the introduction to the program, offering a variety of adaptive sport clinics and education about the importance of physical activity.
“Excel” helps athletes shine in their sport of choice through weekly practice, competitions, and ASPO’s summer camp.
“Inspire” brings in athletic ambassadors to meet and encourage atheletes with disabilities.
One of the goals of ASPO is to educate schools on how to include disabled athletes in their athletic teams. They also help these athletes by fitting them for an appropriate wheelchair, which they can use during the season.
Recently, Rogers High School student Abdul Alan, one of ASPO’s Toledo athletes, competed with his school during a track meet in early June.
Local Athletes Excel
ASPO offers a variety of local sporting opportunities, including wheelchair football, sled hockey, and wheelchair softball, which launches this summer.
Along with recreational sports, ASPO also offers competitive sport teams, such as Toledo’s sled hockey team. The group travels once a month to locations throughout the country and in Canada to compete against other adapted sled hockey teams. The team meets on the weekends at the Toledo Ice House.
Even though many of the adaptive sports use a wheelchair, ASPO athletes do not necessarily need to be in a wheelchair. Kurth says, “The biggest barrier we face is that people think ‘because I’m not in a chair, I can’t play’, but that’s not true. We have many ambulatories— those who can walk but may require a cane or assistance—who play on our teams… The chairs are used as an equalizer.”
“We couldn’t do what we do without the support of generous grants and equipment donations. The Walleye Wishing Well has helped ASPO sled hockey athletes with donations of sleds, which [along with the cost of outfitting the athlete] is approximately $1,100 new,” says Kurth.
Kurth also cites The Ability Center as another beneficial Toledo relationship for ASPO, saying “their helpful staff and knowledge of adaptive sports provides helps us reach more athletes who can benefit from our programs.”
In just a few years, ASPO has greatly changed the opportunities for disabled athletes across the state. Kurth says it best, “We provide opportunities to make dreams come true.”