Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nevada program trains future Paralympians

From the Las Vegas Sun in Nevada Dec. 18. In the picture, volunteer Luis Amelburu, right, shadowboxes with Clarabelle Javier, 11, during the year’s final Paralympic Academy event.

With each step he took up the climbing wall at the Henderson Multigenerational Center on Dec. 10, Drake Hollingshead felt a greater sense of accomplishment.

The legally blind 11-year-old isn't afraid of heights and was anxious to conquer the wall.

"I wanted to go up all the way to the top," Drake said.

Drake was participating in the Clark County School District's final Paralympic Academy program of the year. The event, which is sponsored by U.S. Paralympics, allows disabled athletes to participate in a variety of athletic activities.

With assistance from volunteers, Drake made it about 30 feet up the wall.

"It definitely builds confidence," said Mark Hollingshead, his father. "Drake always has to be so cautious whereever he goes. Now when he goes to the park he is always trying to get to the top of whatever he climbs."

Drake and about 40 other local public school students participated in the program, which also featured boxing, table tennis and hula dancing.

The academy holds the events once a month at various community centers during the school year, sometimes drawing close to 50 students with physical disabilities.

Barbara Chambers, who heads the School District's adapted physical education program, got the academy off the ground last year.

"I wanted to make an impact," said Chambers, a Green Valley resident. "I knew there was a need. We're establishing a relationship with the kids and their family."

Some students spent the evening trying out sports in hopes of competing in the Paralympics some day. Others tried the activities for the first time.

"Being visually impaired, I never thought they would have something like this," said Billy Reaume, a sixth grader at Robert O. Gibson Middle School in Las Vegas. "We thought we were separate from everybody else. This gives a chance for others with disabilities like me to try something new."

Louie Amelburu, an adapted physical education teacher, taught jabs and basic combinations to the students.

Amelburu, a former boxing trainer, said students get more activity at the free programs than in a typical gym class.

"This gives us an opportunity to teach them something they're not really familiar with," he said.

The programs are also popular for relatives looking to participate in more activities with the students.

Adrian Story, a third grader at Glen C. Taylor Elementary School, playfully practiced some of his jabs on his brother after the program.

"I like coming here because it gives us exercise and we have fun," said Story, who has spina bifida and moves by wheelchair.

Each month, the academy organizes different activities for the students.

Chambers moved to Las Vegas in 1981 to become an adaptive physical education teacher in the School District and has gone on to coach several Paralympics track team and become chairperson for Wheelchair Sports USA.

However, with inevitable budget cuts, Chambers said the program is not immune.

"With budget cuts, the district's top priority is putting teachers in front of students," she said. "After school programs like ours may be cut, but we're going to keep it going as long as we can."