Spring has finally taken hold and the outdoors is full of fresh opportunity for young athletes: Baseball players are back on the field, tennis courts have come alive and rowers are preparing to take to the water.
This year, there are more options than ever for children with physical and mental challenges. Local organizations are offering chances to try different outdoor sports, join a team or simply explore nature in new ways.
If it can be dreamed, it can be done, local adaptive sports program leaders say.
“We live in a time now that technology has made it possible for every sport you can think of to be possible for anyone with a disability,” said Mary Ellen Whitney, president, CEO and founder of STRIDE Adaptive Sports, based in Rensselaer.
Join the fun
WHEN: Aug. 2-9
WHO: Children who are visually impaired or blind
WHAT: Sleep away camp with opportunities to participate in beep baseball, judo, adaptive soccer, gymnastics and more.
COST: $75 registration fee; camp is free
MORE INFO: Call 290-7050 or visit campabilitiessaratoga.org
Double H Ranch,
WHEN: Six-day sessions throughout the summer
WHO: Children ages 6 to 16 with life-threatening illnesses; alumni session for ages 17-21
WHAT: Activities range from a high ropes course to horseback riding; round-the-clock on-site medical staff
MORE INFO: Call 696-5676 or visit www.doublehranch.org
Rotterdam Challenger Tri-County Baseball League, based in
WHEN: April 28 through June 20.
WHO: Children ages 5 to 16 and adults age 17 and older with physical and mental challenges
WHAT: Baseball games where everyone plays and every team wins. There is a waiting list for the 2014 season.
MORE INFO: Call Ellen Brown at 887-5648
Saratoga Rowing Association’s
WHEN: Land practice starts in April and the team takes to the water in May
WHO: Children in seventh grade or older with mental and physical challenges
MORE INFO: Call 587-6697 or visit www.saratogarowing.com
Sports’ 85-acre camp
WHEN: Weekends during summer, plus a weeklong camp for youth who are blind or have vision impairments.
WHO: People ages 5 to 21 with physical and mental challenges
WHAT: Camps include archery, fishing and more
COST: Most programs are free
MORE INFO: Call 598-1279 or visit www.stride.org
STRIDE offers children the chance to participate in 16 different sports programs, including golf, sailing, cycling and swimming. Archery is a recent addition and yoga will be available in the coming weeks.
Kids who thought they might never be able to swing a bat, cast a fishing line or shoot a bow can do it all with the help of adaptive equipment and specialized training at STRIDE’s weekend summer camps in Chatham. Every activity at the 85-acre site is wheelchair-accessible.
The camp serves children with a variety of disabilities. This summer, there will be a week reserved exclusively for youth who are blind or have vision impairments. Activities will include fishing, archery, paintball beeper target shooting, beeper kickball and sensory art projects.
A high ropes course and horses are among the tools that will be used to empower kids at Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne this summer.
The camp, co-founded by Charles R. Wood and Paul Newman, serves children with life-threatening illnesses.
Just about any child can climb a cargo net at the camp, thanks to an adaptive chair. Once a platform in the trees is reached, there’s an exhilarating zip-line ride back down to solid ground.
The camp’s horses are equipped with special saddles that allow children who lack control over their upper body to ride.
“For the kids, it’s a lot that they never thought they would do. I think that they’re so often told in life things that they can’t do. To be told that they can do something is really empowering,” said Jacqui Royael, the ranch’s director of operations.
Once the weather gets warmer, a brand new adaptive pontoon boat will give children on ventilators the chance to cruise on the water.
“They’re able to go out on a boat, which seems like a pretty common thing to happen up here near Lake George in the summer, but for the kids we serve, it’s definitely out of the realm of possibility,” Royael said.
Each six-day camp session at Double H accommodates about 126 campers, with a camper-to-staff ratio of 2-to-1.
There’s a fully equipped medical facility on site, staffed around the clock by doctors and nurses.
Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs will be the site of a new, weeklong sleep away summer camp for kids who are blind or have vision impairments. Camp Abilities, sponsored by the Saratoga Lions Club, will take place Aug. 2 through 9.
Adaptive sports specialists will help kids play baseball, swim, row, do judo and gymnastics, and maybe even ice skate and ride horseback.
The camp has the potential to open many doors, said Camp Abilities President Richard Reeves, who has observed a similar endeavor at SUNY Brockport.
“I particularly like it for the older kids because I have been told that some of them have decided that they can handle college by spending a week in a college dorm, going to a college dining hall, going to sports facilities. They get self-empowered and they get confident,” he said.
Camp Abilities has space for 20 and is open to any child who is qualified.
Each camper will be assigned a counselor, and two nurses will be on staff around the clock.
Saratoga Springs is also home base for the Saratoga Rowing Association, which is in the process of purchasing four new pairs of sculling oars for its adaptive program. The funds came from a recent grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
A second grant, received in November from the Christopher Dailey Foundation, enabled the group to purchase a specially equipped boat for the adaptive program.
Athletes with limited mobility, cognitive disabilities, visual impairments or blindness can all fly across the water and compete in regattas.
The team starts practicing indoors this month and takes to the water in May.
Eric Catalano, executive director of Saratoga Rowing Association, said he hopes the adaptive program will grow.
“We’ve been pretty consistently having eight adaptive rowers,” he said. “It’s been going really well. We have a fantastic group of volunteers and two coaches who are dedicated to the program.”
Once April comes around, there’s nothing that can stop members of the Rotterdam Challenger Tri-County Baseball League from rounding the bases. The league, which plays in Rotterdam Junction, is open to both children and adults with physical and mental challenges.
“I’ve had kids in wheelchairs and walkers and they’ll get out there and they’ll hit the ball and they’ll even do their own wheelchair sometimes to the bases or my helpers will run them to the different bases,” said Ellen Brown, the league’s president.
This spring, the league has 198 players assigned to teams and there’s a waiting list.
The season runs through June 20 and ends with a banquet.
“The kids love it,” Brown said. “Maybe three days after the final banquet, I get phone calls: ‘When do we sign up again?’ ”