Adopting Adaptive; a look at adaptive sports

A mosaic of beefy pickups, jammed between practical family SUVs and an odd smattering of mini hatchback adventures fill the parking lot. The people that emerge from these vehicles provide an equally intriguing mix; massive ex-military with stars and stripes edged into their bulging biceps, a group of friends with chatty smiles and matching tank tops, a single woman, quiet in appearance but exuding a loud determination through her walk, and even Wonder Women, (or her equally as good looking double) rolls through the parking lot. All these people move with a mission towards the beckoning building at the north end.

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Kelley Butler, proves she is Wonder Woman, not letting her MS diagnosis stop her. Photo credit: Hannah Miller

​Inside the air is alive. Electrons bouncing off one another; excited exchanges increasing entropy. It is jubilant chaos. Yet an overarching feeling of cohesive accomplishment orders the anecdotes, weaving together a singular story of tenacious purpose.

The setting?

Graduation day for Class 16 of Adaptive Training Foundation, an intense mentor and development program aimed at empowering those with physical disabilities to transform their lives through exercise and community.

The class consists of amputees, wheelchair users, and stroke victims; veterans, some motor accident survivors, and patients of neuromuscular diseases.

All are fighters.

For the adaptive athletes, it is not what, or how, they got here but instead, “where to next?” Morris Brossette, ReCharge Program Director says.

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Morris Brossette, ReCharge Program Director Photo credit: Adaptive training foundation website

“If you treat a man broken he’s going to act broken,” Brossette says. “But if you treat a man like a man, that’s how he’s going to respond to you.”

— Or SHE for that matter. Kelley Butler, AKA wonder woman, hauls three humans across the gym on a trolley.

A Multiple Sclerosis patient, Butler’s bio says when diagnosed she felt that she was a source of pity; she doesn’t want that. Instead she wants to motivate and inspire others to “get off their butt(s) and do something.”

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Kelley Butler, pulls three people across the gym on a cart proving her strength beyond MS. Photo credit: Hannah Miller

Not designed to offer sympathy, but rather pave a way forward, the foundation offers those willing to work for it a place in one of their nine-week “Redefine”programs operated out of their Carrollton Texas location. The facility boasts a full gym, comprehensive physio services, and a meditation “ReCharge”center, each playing an integral role in developing complete athlete wellness.

Click for a 360 degree VR tour of the facilities.

Starting with physical adaption the program aims to re-empower athletes by flipping short term failures into long term strides.

“They just see it as another step along the way,” team physio, Gina Tacconi-Moore said. “When that clicks and they understand what’s possible it’s really wicked!”

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Gina Tacconi-Moore Photo credit: Adaptive training foundation (with permission)

With “failure” just another point in an upward projection, athletes are taught to embrace their new purposes through movement; redefining themselves by what they can, rather than can’t do.

“Let me show you how you can fail and why this is a good thing, why you need to be able to fall and get back up,” Brossette states while explaining the program’s philosophy. “Once [the athletes] do it in the gym, they come back in and now we say ‘ok let’s do the same thing out in life!’”

Embracing the present and translating that appreciation to life is what these athletes are all about.

“Everyone likes to look at the past, Brossette says. “‘I used to be able to do this’ but that is irrelevant. The more you spend time there, you’re taking away from what you can do here, now.”

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Tyler Turner, bilateral below knee amputee, juggles while on balance board. Photo credit: Hannah Miller

In the ReCharge aspect of the course, athletes learn to meditate, using breath as an anchor while relating this to movement. Through this they learn to handle rejections, enhance communication, and reclaim their purpose.

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Mo Covington, above knee amputee lifts weights. Photo credit: Hannah Miller

Speaking of Texan Nikki Lewis who was left paralyzed from the neck down after being struck by a freak wave while boogie boarding in Maui just four days after her wedding, Brossette recalls her claiming “the wave took my purpose.”

A week later, Lewis was telling Brossette of a lady in California who had been through an identical experience but had never left her wheelchair, remined house-bound and required 24-hour care — because she had been told that was her reality.

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Nikki Lewis proves she has purpose beyond her injury Photo credit: Hannah Miller

​​Being surrounded by a determined team Lewis found a new purpose beyond herself; getting this woman help.

“We didn’t do that,” Brossette proudly states. “We just showed a way and we surrounded her with the right type of enablers, with a group of her peers to say, ‘hell no. You still have purpose.’”

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Defy Impossible wall at Adaptive Training Facility Photo credit: Hannah Miller

What these athletes do and overcome is nothing short of phenomenal and one can’t help but be inspired in their presence, “This is what I do at work!” Tacconi-Moore exclaims.

The programs larger aim is to produce ambassadors whose personal journeys inspire whole communities to work through their own struggles.

“We all have our own ‘waves’ to come back from,” Tacconi-Moore reiterates. “Helping these guys work through theirs inspires me daily.”

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Adaptive athlete balances and juggles on balance board. Photo credit: Hannah Miller

Encouraging all to achieve a fulfilling life through the power of movement regardless of the situation is Adaptive’s foundational principle and one that resonates worldwide.

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Close up shot of weight plates Photo credit: Hannah Miller

Operating under the mission of an “inclusive society,” New Zealand based, Halberg Foundation aims to “enhance the lives of physically disabled New Zealanders by enabling them to participate in sport and recreation.”

Established in 1963 by 5000m Olympic Champion Sir Murray Helberg, the foundation has grown to encompass and support Halberg active, which provides adaptive based training programs and events; Halberg Youth Council, a leadership panel of young ambassadors; and the annual Halberg awards, the Foundation’s flagship fundraising event designed to honour and celebrate elite sporting excellence in New Zealand.

Famous for breaking the tape at the Rome 1960 Olympics without the full use on one arm. Sir Murray Halberg become an advocate for inclusive sport on the belief that all people, regardless of their ability, should have equal opportunity to enhance their lives as he had.

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Murray Halberg crosses the line winning Gold in the 5000m at Rome 1960 Olympics. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Halberg Youth ambassador, Victoria Baldwin said “the foundation provides people with disabilities the opportunity to feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment through the means of participating in sport. As a result, increasing their sense of inclusiveness within society.”

Through equal sporting opportunities Baldwin, who has cerebral palsy, has pushed herself to compete at a national level with great success while discovering a career she is passionate about.

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Victoria Baldwin head shot. Photo credit: Halberg Foundation (with permission)

“Sport and the Halberg Foundation provided me with the building blocks to succeed,” she said. “[The foundation] has enabled me to develop both as an athlete and most importantly as a person. If I never engaged in the Halberg Disability Games, I would have never meet so many amazing people, developed my leadership skills, or discovered my passion of occupational therapy, which I am currently in my last year of studying.”

Both the Adaptive Athlete, and Halberg, foundations foster greater human understanding and connection in all walks of life by pursuing individual purpose within team environments, highlighting the combined strengths of individuality.

“Applying [these ideals] to other parts of life, such as work, can enable companies to consider other people’s perspectives and strengths,” Baldwin said. “And as a result, increase their ability to accomplish goals.”

Much like the athletes of Adaptive Training foundation, Baldwin is determined to spread the message and encourage everyone to push their limits.

“Even though I have a disability, I never let that dictate what I want to achieve in life. I believe through hard work and determination anyone can achieve anything if they put their mind to it,” she said.

While most of us spend our days debating the glass being half full or half empty, both Baldwin and the Athletes at Adaptive Training Foundation have discovered the level of the glass is irrelevant. The only matter of debate is; where to next and what can be done to continue filling it.