CSU, Chico News

Sports Camp Empowers Kids With Disabilities

Date: 06-18-2014

Sarah Langford
Public Affairs

Young people with physical disabilities are learning to overcome challenges and discover what they’re capable of achieving at the 28th annual Ability First Sports Camp, in full swing at California State University, Chico.

The weeklong camp provides training in nearly a dozen sports for kids ages 8–17 with physical impairments. Campers travel from throughout the western United States to live in the residence halls and use campus and area athletic facilities.

Guided by an army of counselors and coaches — many with disabilities of their own – this year’s 32 campers are rotating through sessions including basketball, tennis, rugby, track and field, aquatics, rock climbing, a ropes course, water skiing, skateboarding and golf. The campers participate in training drills and get tested on skill levels.

The camp was founded in 1985 by CSU, Chico therapeutic recreation alum Eric Snedeker and is one of only four live-in sports camps in the United States. Snedeker says it was his dream to give kids with disabilities access to the same experiences he had growing up — attending sports camps, going to college and living away from home.

“A lot of kids, when they first come here, they think they won’t be able to do any of it,” he said. “We show them that they can, and that with practice they can do almost anything they want to. The difference [at the end of the week] is night and day.”

Besides teaching skills and building confidence, he said, camp leaders make it a priority to expose the campers to the sports networks that exist in their home communities. They also focus on developing independent living skills in the dorms, like eating, showering and transferring from wheelchair to bed.

Students from CSU, Chico’s therapeutic recreation and adaptive physical education programs often serve as counselors, gaining hands-on experience in their fields. The camp also employs three registered nurses and a night crew. Many of the coaches are Paralympic athletes, including several gold-medal winners.

The camp also attracts highly gifted athletes; two of this year’s campers cut their week short to compete in the Paralympics.

Sixteen-year-old Kelsie Christensen is participating in the camp for the third time this year. Though she is missing parts of her feet and ankles from meningitis she contracted as an infant, she plays competitive basketball in the ParaSport league in her hometown of Spokane, Washington.

“The drive from the other athletes, the coaches, and all the fun activities” are what keep her coming back, she said.

The camp runs through Saturday, June 21. For more information on Ability First, please visit www.abilityfirstsports.org.