Paralympic Sport Club spotlight: Sportable Richmond
|Wheelchair basketball is one of 13 year-round sports offered at Sportable, a Paralympic Sport Club based in Richmond, Va.
At Sportable, a Paralympic Sport Club based in Richmond, Va., the goal is not just to offer adaptive sports programming.
Rather, it is to help athletes see beyond their disabilities and realize their potential, both within the sports world and in the community as a whole.
Sportable is the only adaptive sports organization in Richmond or the surrounding region. Founded in 2005 by certified therapeutic recreation specialists Kristen Lessig and Jenni Yocco, Sportable received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2007 and was named a Paralympic Sport Club by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, in 2010.
Since then, Sportable has expanded tremendously, increasing from 62 athletes in 2010 to more than 300 on the mailing list today. The club now has four full-time and four part-time staff members, as well as more than 130 volunteers who contribute an estimated 1,300 hours annually.
Lessig, who is now Sportable’s executive director, is a lifelong athlete herself, having competed in collegiate track and field in her first years at Central Connecticut State University. It was later at Virginia Commonwealth University that Lessig discovered adaptive sports while completing her undergraduate degree in recreation therapy, a stepping stone to later earning her doctorate in physical therapy.
Lessig wanted to become more involved in the movement. She was moved to co-create Sportable when she realized her community was missing a structured outlet for athletes with disabilities.
“I thought, ‘Wow, there must be people in Richmond that participate in adaptive sports,’ so I looked around and found that there were people that participated in these sports, but no organization around it,” Lessig said. “I was motivated to fill that gap and ensure that everyone had the opportunity to participate in sports and recreation. I wanted to be the voice locally to do that.”
Today, the opportunities at Sportable are endless. Whether it’s surging downriver in a whitewater kayak, completing a marathon, or playing a game of wheelchair basketball, athletes can push their limits and reach their athletic potential in a variety of ways.
The club now offers 13 year-round sports and caters to interested athletes with physical or visual disabilities, including adults and youth ages five and up. In addition, Sportable partners with the local VA Hospital to serve wounded military veterans.
One of the most popular programs Sportable offers is its 10-kilometer race training program, which is capped off each year with the Monument Avenue 10k in March. For those athletes who want to push the envelope even further, the training program continues through the Richmond Marathon and Half Marathon in November.
Other growing sports are on-water rowing, wheelchair lacrosse and wheelchair tennis. The club’s ever-popular juniors wheelchair basketball program, which includes boys’ and girls’ players, is sanctioned through the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.
In addition to providing sports at the recreational level, Sportable also aims to identify athletes with competitive potential and bring them into the Paralympic pipeline for a future Paralympic Games experience.
Being proactive at the grassroots level, Lessig said, is essential to growing the Paralympic Movement and changing perceptions about individuals with disabilities.
“Without community-based programs, there is no opportunity for people to even see what their potential is on their way to what we would hope to be the elite level,” Lessig said. “Without that, there really is no way to know what the possibilities are.”
From April 4-6, Sportable will play host to the 42nd annual Mid-Atlantic Wheelchair Games, a regional adaptive sports competition sanctioned through Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA. The Games will feature competition in air rifles, track and field, archery, swimming and more. While the event has been held in the northwest portion of Virginia in the past, Lessig said hosting it at Sportable will help draw more participants than ever before.
“We put in a bid to host (the Wheelchair Games) here because Richmond is so centrally located, and it’s easy to get in and out of,” Lessig said. “We hope to grow the event to something that folks travel to for competition every year.”
In addition to serving athletes, Lessig said, Sportable also makes it a priority to educate the wider community and increase awareness of adaptive sports and the Paralympic Movement.
"We do a volunteer orientation where we provide volunteers with information on the history of adaptive sports, person-first language and things like that," Lessig said. "So we do a lot of educating up front about who our athletes are, what the programs look like and what the disabilities are. That way, we bridge the gap between knowing in theory what the Paralympics are and really knowing the athletes."