Episode 51, 52 min listen
Join me as we hear from adaptive athlete and disability activist, Chris Sparrow. Chris will share what it has meant for him to get outdoors and re-engage with the sports he loves following a spinal cord injury. Along the way, he'll challenge us all to open our minds to what is possible and step up to help build a more inclusive outdoors. This episode was also part of our 10-week Inclusive Community Outdoor Challenge.
Or listen wherever you get your podcasts via pod.link
Learn about the CAN talks.
Links to resources that Chris mentioned:
- Upstate-Carolina Adaptive Golf
- ParaGolfer by Eazilee
- VertaCat Adaptive Golf Equipment
- Catalyst Sports and Mountain Bike Race
- Bowhead Adaptive Sports Equipment
- The Challenged Athlete Foundation
Chris Sparrow is an adaptive athlete from Greenville, SC. In 2012 Chris experienced a rare neurological injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Throughout his life, Chris has always participated in athletics and outdoor recreation. Becoming paralyzed wasn’t about to stop him from being active. Chris participates and competes in several adaptive sports, including adaptive mountain biking and golfing primarily. Though there aren’t any sports he isn’t willing to try.
Ame Sanders 00:11
This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better, and we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I'm Ame Sanders. Welcome.
If you've been listening for a while, you'll remember that in Episode 49, I introduced our 10-week inclusive community outdoor challenge. For one of those challenges, I wanted to talk with a local change agent, and somebody who's actively working to participate in and build a more inclusive outdoors. Right away, I knew I wanted to talk with Chris Sparrow. So Chris and I first met as teammates in a community leadership program a few years back. Chris is an adaptive athlete, and he is also the coordinator of a program called Greenville CAN. Welcome, Chris.
Chris Sparrow 01:11
Thank you very much. I appreciate you having me on the podcast today.
-About Greenville CAN
Ame Sanders 01:16
Before we get started, Chris, and start talking about your favorite sports, because I think we'll probably spend some time on that, can you tell us a little bit about the work you do with the Barbara Stone Foundation and about Greenville CAN?
Chris Sparrow 01:29
Absolutely. So, I started with the Barbara Stone Foundation about a year and a half ago, but I've been working as a volunteer through Greenville CAN for about the past five years. What we do is we try to make Greenville, South Carolina, a better place for people with disabilities. The Barbara Stone Foundation started off as more of a fiduciary agent. So, we would provide funding to other disability-based nonprofits in the area who needed some extra help to be able to make sure that they could implement their programs. So, that's what the Barbara Stone Foundation did for a long time.
Then, we got to a point where we were realizing that there were still issues and still barriers out there that existed for individuals, and also, there didn't seem to be any kind of clear community around the disability world in Greenville. So, we thought we wanted to be more thoughtful about that. So, we wanted to start having some more collaboration between the local disability nonprofits. That's where Greenville CAN came in. So, "CAN" stands for collaborative action network. So, what we do is, we have a few different ways that we do things. But what we're really trying to do is create systems change in Greenville and really create a more inclusive community. There hasn't really been a lot of disability pride and a lot of movement in the disability community in Greenville, and so we wanted to start to change things and make Greenville a better place.
Ame Sanders 03:20
What are some of the key priorities that you guys focus on?
Chris Sparrow 03:23
Sure. So, accessibility--making sure that Greenville is as accessible as possible. We are in a little bit of a hilly city and older buildings, and so to look at where we can help increase accessibility in those spots. But then also, as you can tell, Greenville is blowing up right now. There's a lot of development coming in, a lot of new people moving in. So, making sure that when those new places are built, that those are also accessible for people with disabilities.
We also focus on transportation, making sure that what we have in Greenville as far as transportation is accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. We want to make sure that we also focus on the transition from school or college into adulthood. That can be an awkward time for people with disabilities.
We also focus on getting out there and helping families understand kind of sexual boundaries and relationships because that can be also a very confusing time with not a lot of information out there for people with disabilities. That's another part of Greenville CAN we want to focus on is giving people access to information that either is difficult to find, or people just don't have. So, we want to make sure that people are getting those resources. So, that's where we really focus a lot of our efforts.
Ame Sanders 05:01
Can you talk a little bit about one of the programs that you have done in the past-- I don’t know if you're still doing it--your CAN Talks. That was one of my favorite things that you guys did. That was a lot of fun.
Chris Sparrow 05:11
Yeah. So, we're in our fourth year of CAN Talks. It's based on the TED Talks model. So, what we do is we bring in five to six speakers, all of whom have disabilities. We look for a lot of diversity in the speakers, as far as backgrounds, races, ages, sexes, the type of disability they have. Then we allow them to come on stage and have six to eight minutes to speak about a topic or something that they feel very passionate about, or something that they want to educate the public about.
The idea is really to not be something that is an inspiration for people, but more of something that is thought-provoking--that makes people see the world in a different way and look at an issue or a topic in a way that they've never looked at it before. Looking at it from the disability perspective. So, that's what we really want to bring to it. And also the idea that, yes, people with disabilities can be very thoughtful and creative, and stand up and give a speech in front of 250 people and really knock it out of the park.
Ame Sanders 06:32
That's a great gift to the community as well because I think it does, as you describe, change people's thinking, and make them, for a moment, step out of their everyday world as they participate in this and learn from this experience. And it's fun, because CAN talks are very informative, educational, and fun, as well. So that's really, really nice. You guys also work on employment, right?
Chris Sparrow 07:00
Yes. So, we have a couple of different ways that we work on employment. So, through what I do, we organize something we call the Disability Employment Discussion Group. Anybody can be a part of that group. It doesn't have to be service providers or employers; it can be anybody who just wants to learn more about the progress that's being made as far as disability employment, new initiatives that are out there, or things that are very creative, that people aren't really knowing about.
So, for instance, things like Roper Mountain Science Center has a disability employment training center there, where they trained students who have disabilities on how to work in the food industry. It's one thing to get trained in class and learn some things but to be able to be on-site and go through a workday and understand what work is really like is so beneficial to people with disabilities. So, talking about programs like that and giving employers and service providers the opportunity to come in and have discussions, because we're really in the infancy of disability employment. People with disabilities have been employed for a while, but it's really gotten a push in the last 10 to five years. So, getting people to buy in is a big part of it.
But then we also have something called the Up Employment Initiative, which is an inclusive competitive employment opportunity where honestly, we're looking for individuals who may not have had success with other service providers or employment opportunities. So, what we do is we have a specialized way of doing things is that we have our initial employment liaison who basically works with that individual with a disability to help make sure that their job ready and make sure that they have all the job skills that they need as far as interviewing and communication and just being ready to be a good employee.
But then, she also works with the employer to make sure that if something happened on the job, then everybody's kind of in discussion with it and communication and figuring out, okay, let's make sure that we clear the air and get things worked out. Because that's a lot of times where we see problems with employment and disability unemployment specifically. Something will happen, and no one will be there to really kind of figure out what was the issue and how they can get past and usually just turns out well they quit, or they got fired, and things didn't work out.
At the end of the day, it leaves a bad taste in everybody's mouth, and so we're trying to kind of move past that and at least be able to iron things out and smooth things out. Because employment doesn't matter if you have a disability or not. Things come up, and there are all types of issues. So, being able to have somebody to make sure that those things get worked out is very beneficial for the employer and for the employee.
Ame Sanders 10:36
So, thank you for telling us about what you do in your day job. But now, I'd love to talk about what you do for fun. But before we do that, I introduced to you as an adaptive athlete. Maybe you would tell our listeners a little bit about your own story and how you came to be an adaptive athlete.
Chris Sparrow 10:55
Okay, yeah. Absolutely. I love telling people about my story because I think it opens people's minds too. My story is kind of odd. I'm a person with a spinal cord injury. In 2012, I'd gone back to college and was finishing that up. I had just gotten married. Super excited. I thought like, "Okay, here we go." I started really making progress in my life. I was hit with kind of a rare neurological event called transverse myelitis. It was basically an inflammation of my spinal cord. No one really kind of knew what was happening. It hit all of a sudden. I went from being perfectly fine to being unable to walk within a week. We went through a neurologist, and we took a lot of steroids and tried to stop it as it was happening.
But, I ended up going into the hospital and spent five weeks there, and we did the rehab and learned to live life in a wheelchair. After those five weeks, I got out, and I ended up--because transverse myelitis is a little odd, and it doesn't always end up as a person is in a wheelchair. Sometimes people completely heal from it. So, I spent like the next two years, trying to figure out is this going to go away? How can make this go away?
After about two years, it kind of got to the point of all right, well, this is not going to change. I need to accept my life where it is and kind of get out of this place of limbo. I want to start working and be employed and start engaging in life and engaging the community and getting out there. So, I just kind of got to that point, I was like, "All right. Time to move forward." I started that, and that took me on to the rest of my journey, which is been very, very good for me. A lot of incredible things have happened to me, and there's been a lot of benefit to being in a wheelchair. It's not been the easiest life by far. Whereas I felt like I was floating before I had my spinal cord injury, I've felt a lot more purpose-driven since.
-Getting Back To Sports
Ame Sanders 13:38
Wow, that's incredible. Thank you for sharing that, because I think it helps as we talk about the things that you do for fun. Because, as I understand, you were an athlete before athletic before, and you still are now. So, maybe you can tell us a little bit about some of the things that you do as an athlete and kind of open people's minds. Because I'm going to tell you right now, you opened my mind. I think that day I saw on Facebook, that picture of you on your adaptive mountain bike zooming through the forest was a mind-opening moment for me. So, maybe you can tell us about some of the things you do.
Chris Sparrow 14:20
I try to stay involved in as much as I possibly can. You know, if somebody's gonna give me the opportunity to do something, I'm gonna get out there and try it. That's kind of how I've always been. I've just enjoyed trying new things and getting new experiences. Some of those things have been snow skiing or waterskiing. So, I used to do a lot of snow skiing and waterskiing prior to being injured. So, wanting to get back to those things. A lot of the things that I want to do or the sports I would pursue are sports the outward I was doing prior to being injured.
Golf became one of those things. That was something that it took a while for me to get back into golf, but I did that. I do a little basketball. Not as much competitive, but I definitely get out there and play. Cycling and golfing are the main things I focus my efforts on, particularly mountain biking. Just because I found road cycling a little too dangerous, just because the bikes are really low to the ground and really hard to see and it can be unsafe out there. I find it more safe to be flying down a mountain, barely in control, than to be on the road with a bunch of different cars.
Ame Sanders 15:50
So, just for a minute for our listeners, there are two things that I wanted to talk about. You sent me some great pictures. I'm gonna put some pictures on our show notes, so people can see you engaging in these sports. But let's talk about golf for a minute. What kinds of equipment do you use to enable you to play golf? And I know, it seems like you compete as well in golf. So, maybe you can talk a little bit about the adaptive golf universe if you will.
Chris Sparrow 16:20
Sure. Yeah. So, as far as the equipment is concerned, I use a piece of equipment called a ParaGolfer. And so, this is something that I sit down in. It can stand me up. It's got a little joystick on the side that helps me be able to steer it around, and then my golf bag sits off to the side. So, that allows me--I can get onto the greens and not tear up the greens. I can get them most places. Some places are a little bit more difficult, depending on the slope of the hill. But that allows me to just actually stand up and hit from a standing position, which allows me to obviously get more force and distance behind my swing, but also just allows me to feel like I'm actually playing the game again.
I tried to play the game in a wheelchair, and I found it just to be a little difficult. Then, for me, I was like, "Well, how am I going to actually play on a course in a wheelchair like this? That's not gonna work. It's gonna take too much effort. I'm not going to be able to really get on the greens. I'm not gonna be able to get into bunkers or anything like that." So, the ParaGolfer helps me do that. Unfortunately, the ParaGolfer that we're currently using has been discontinued. There's a new cart that's been put out called Vertacat, I think. They just released it recently.
So, there are a few companies that are out there and are starting to look into making equipment for individuals specifically who are paralyzed. Because when you're doing golf, you have to be very careful of getting pressure sores, that can happen either on the back of your legs or on your bottom. That can be pretty devastating to individuals, so you have to be very careful of that. So, getting people who can understand that as they're creating this piece of equipment is pretty hard. There are some people who are figuring it out now and starting. There's, I think, a couple of companies that are doing that.
But as far as the actual adaptive golf universe, it's pretty wide, right? So, there's, I think, 14 different competitive classifications out there. Because obviously, someone in a wheelchair, it would be kind of unfair, if I was competing against somebody who just had one arm amputated. Or somebody had their leg amputated, so there are all these different classifications as to above the knee, below the knee. Is it two arms? Is it two legs amputated? Is it somebody with Down syndrome? There's a bunch of these different classifications that we compete in. Golf has been around for a while, because a lot of the adaptive sports came out of veterans, basically. There's a lot of support for veterans to be able to get back into athletics.
So, through their work and through their support, it's kind of bled down into the rest of the disability community and provided a lot of opportunities where there were none before. So, golf is one of those things that really kind of came out of the military and veterans, playing golf. They're the ones that kind of started to figure out--at least it started off with a lot of amputees playing golf, and so that's kind of where the adaptive golf world started.
As far as pieces of equipment like I use, they've only been around for about 15 years. That was from when they were like first created. So, it's really gained a lot of traction here in about the last 10 years. There are these ParaGolfers all throughout the US. You just kind of have to figure out where they're located and go and use them. Because it is kind of hard, because if you don't have your own--they cost about $25,000 to buy. Most golf courses aren't having them on their own. So, you have to find a program that has those to be able to actually go out and play and engage. But luckily, we have two of them here in the upstate area, one through Carolina Adaptive Golf and then one through the local rehab hospital Roger C Peace.
-Adaptive Mountain Biking
Ame Sanders 21:09
The other thing that I wanted you to describe for a minute, if you would, is your mountain biking. So, that's quite a thing to be mountain biking. So, maybe you can tell us how it works and a little bit about how you make that happen.
Chris Sparrow 21:24
Yeah, absolutely. So, a lot of these sports are very emerging things. It wasn’t around 10 to 15 years ago. So, there are a few companies that have started creating these mountain bikes. A lot of it's coming out of Colorado, or British Columbia as these mountain bike hubs. But they have a few different styles, a few different versions. They're all gonna be—well, not all of them. There are a few four wheels, but most of them are three-wheel mountain bikes. Mine and a few others have two wheels in the front and one in the back, and a hand crank that sits about in my chest.
I do use an e-assist for it just because it gives so much more range to how far I can go. Because if I go out there with no e-assist, I'm gonna get burned out within the first two miles and just be unable to have the power or the strength to keep on going anywhere else. So, it makes it very limited. Whereas the e-assist opens up a lot of space for me to be able to go and ride. Also, going uphill is a big thing. Because in these races, basically, we climb to the top of the hill, and we race down to the bottom. You know, whoever's got the fastest time. So, being able to make that climb it takes e-assist. It's really fun.
Again, we just had the very first Southeast adaptive mountain bike tournament last September. So, they're gonna have the second one this year. They do that at a place called Ride Kanuga. It's near Hendersonville, North Carolina, and it's like a private mountain bike park. We just go out there. We have a trail, and it's also part of a bigger mountain bike, I guess they call it the End of Summer Jam. That's kind of a larger competition that they have.
That's just in our specific area, but Bentonville, Arkansas, is actually a massive adaptive mountain bike hub. They have a big park, and there's a lot of people that go out there, and they do a big race each year. Then British Columbia. There's a company up there that is named Bowhead that is making these mountain bikes. They have a bunch of different versions. They are definitely starting to really push the envelope as to how far we can take these things as far as the speeds and what kind of terrain we can go down.
I initially got my bike as a way to help me keep hiking because I love to hike and backpack before I became paralyzed. So, this was kind of just a way to get me back out into nature and to get off the pavement and to get to places where I can't hear cars, and I can just have time to myself. But then it started becoming, "Okay. Well, we can race these. Oh, there's people out there to want to actually compete in this." So, that's where it kind of started to change for me.
I met some other people around the area that were into it. There's also a nonprofit here in the southeast. They have a few different locations, or branches, if you want to call them that, called Catalyst Sports. They're the ones that help make the race happen. They have a bunch of different bikes. They help introduce people to adaptive mountain biking. That's the thing too. With a lot of these sports, it's so expensive to get these pieces of equipment, and so to have organizations that can provide that equipment for use for free, at least to help introduce you to it and figure out what I want to actually do with it? Do I want to race a mountain bike, or do I just want to ride on gravel roads? Or do I want to just, have a road bike? So, being able to try out different things helps when you're trying to actually get into the purchasing side of it. I can talk about that too, because, you know, yes, these things are really expensive, but there's also different foundations and different groups out there that help support and help provide funding for people to get these bikes or whatever piece of equipment. Whether it's just a sports wheelchair, for playing pickleball or tennis or getting a snow ski or whatever that individual is looking for.
-Why It Matters
Ame Sanders 26:29
I loved hearing you talk about this. It just makes me think about the fact that you were into sports before you were injured, and now you've found your way back to sports and to the outdoors and to competing in sports as well, which sounds like it's really exciting for you and a lot of fun. I guess I wanted to ask you, maybe, if you would just talk a little bit about how important you feel like that is for you, and what it gave you or gave you back to be able to do this.
Chris Sparrow 27:02
First, normalcy. A lot of times, your life is thrown so out of whack when you have a disability, that just finding things that were normal before getting back to those is incredibly important and just your own mental health. Speaking on just that mental health aspect of it too, whenever I leave or I'm going home from a bike ride, or going out and playing pickleball or going out and playing golf, there's just this good feeling I have. Like, this was great. I got out and did it. So amazing. It kind of feels goofy, but I feel cool, like actually going out there and doing something. It doesn't matter how exhausted I am or dirty or whatever the case may be, it's just that you definitely get like a high from being able to actually go out there and do it. It's an incredible feeling.
So, just being able to have that mental health side and helps out with your confidence. Because, you know, it's easy to start to lose confidence in yourself and lose self-esteem when you have a disability. So, this is something that definitely builds it back up. Even if I'm out there having a terrible day on the golf course, just the ability to go out there and be there is incredibly helpful.
And just the ability to get outside too. That's another thing is a lot of people with disabilities are trapped indoors, or they have limited time to get outside. So, to be able to get onto a golf course or to be able to go out to a state forest or a national park or just a baseball field, right? These are things that really help the mental aspect and the quality of life of people with disabilities. There's such an improvement in people's quality of life. Not only that, but it helps with occupational therapy and physical therapy. Rec therapy helps support that so much because you're doing those things that you need to help build up strength or help engage muscles that weren't engaged before, help build up your core or just getting outside and getting the vitamin D from the sun. All those different things are just really beneficial to the overall health of people with disabilities. It provides so much.
As a person with a spinal cord injury, it's so easy to start to gain weight, start to lose muscle mass, start to become complacent, and just not wanting to do things. That leads to negative health outcomes. That can be the same thing for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities too. Our disabilities are up there as far as those health outcomes can happen really fast and be really bad for us. So, being out there and being able to compete and sweat and work out, it provides so many positives on so many different levels, as far as that goes.
But at the end of the day, just that happiness and being able to engage, and you also, like, there's a good community too, right? It really helps you to go out and see other people and talk to other people and hang out. I think the competing against other people was fun, but just being able to sit there and talk to somebody and have those conversations and feel like, hey, we're athletes together. I don't think it's necessarily talked about enough, because it's hard to kind of put words behind that, but it is really important.
I've found everybody kind of engages. It's like when we go to a golf tournament, there's something about it. Everybody's there. We're competing, but there's not like a feeling of...there's no anger about it. Like, "Oh, you hit a better shot than me. You had a great shot." I love that like. There's a lot of support behind each other. That's kind of what everybody needs too, because we're all gonna hit bad shots on the golf course. We're all going to have tough times in life. So, just having people there to help support you is really important, because it's easy to become isolated when you have a disability too. So, getting back out there, it makes a difference. I would recommend anybody with a disability, try to get back out there as much as possible. Even if you're just going outside and just hanging out and sitting in your front yard. It makes a difference.
-What About Kids?
Ame Sanders 32:19
When you talk about it is easy to understand how important it is for everybody to be able to be active and be outdoors. I wanted to ask you a question because your disability came to you as an adult. But a lot of kids are born with a disability or special challenges. A lot of us learn about sports and outdoor activities and things we love outside as children. So, I wondered, because of your professional background and everything, if you could talk a little bit about how this affects children and what you think our listeners and communities should be thinking about in terms of supporting children who may need special adaptations to the playground or at school. Those kinds of things.
Chris Sparrow 33:11
Yeah, of course. This, I think, is even more important and has an even bigger effect for children, right? Because, as an adult, if you have to go into the hospital or you're going into the doctor's office, you are able to process it from a certain space. Whereas if you're a child, that may be your life and what you're dealing with, and it becomes such a big part of that, that so much of your life is dedicated to the medical side of it that you're losing those childhood aspects to it. So, the ability for youth with disabilities to be involved and engaged in sports is so important.
I can say that from what I've seen and what I've been able to witness because, luckily, here in Greenville, we have some emerging youth sports for youth with disabilities. One of the biggest ones and the more famous ones is the Roger C Peace Rolling Tigers. I don't know if you're familiar with them. They are a youth prep wheelchair basketball team who, in April, won the national championship. Yeah. So, they're the best prep wheelchair basketball team in the entire US by far. I've seen them play in person, and then they also show all their games live on Facebook.
So, if you follow them on Facebook, then you can watch their games. They basically just demolish everyone they play. So, this team has basically kind of been growing together. They started off, I believe, around like the seven to eight range. Most of them are getting into middle school now and getting ready to get into high school. So, I think they're all kind of around 11-12.
Ame Sanders 35:15
They're pretty young.
Chris Sparrow 35:17
Yeah. They're all pretty young, but they're really just amazing athletes. I mean, it's, it's incredible. They play so well together. Very well coached. Clemson is doing a lot with youth sports. They have some youth sports camps that they do during the summer. Whatever you're interested in trying, they have those. Then they also have some competitions out there, some youth sports track or field competitions. It's during nothing the middle of May too. So, they do a lot of stuff out there. A lot of tennis.
As far as the other aspects of youth sports for disabilities or recreation, because you talked about the like playgrounds. It makes a huge difference as far as making sure that--and I'm kind of talking to, there's anybody from any municipalities who designs playgrounds who's listening in--it makes such a big difference to have pieces of adaptive equipment there that youth with disabilities can use. So, whether that's being able to ramp up to elevated play features or have steps that they can make it to that or having the ground covering be something a youth in a wheelchair could easily roll over and navigate.
We come from the days of just fill it all up with mulch, all the ground. That can be very difficult for youth who are using wheelchairs to navigate through themselves. That's a lot of it too. We want to encourage independence. I mean, yes, I'm sure a parent could come through and push that youth to whatever play features they needed through mulch. But that means a lot more for the youth to be able to do it themselves and to play with other kids themselves without having to rely on somebody else to be able to push them around.
Then also being able to engage with a lot of play features that are ground-level is a big deal. Having a lot of different styles of play features to encourage different types of learning. So, you have maybe musical styles, right? Instead of just having a slide or monkey bars, to climb on, have some musical features. Have some tactile-type elements that a youth with a visual disability can go and engage with and start to play with. All those things make a difference. We can do so much with these playgrounds, and they can be so interactive and have so many different cool features. We've been limited in the past, but people and a lot of playground designers too are starting to realize things these things. Then also having very much the same thing as far as like the ground covering, is making sure there's enough shade. Climate change is real, and it is affecting us on a day-to-day basis. So, having enough shade out there for youth who may need it is important. Having an accessible restroom right there. When I say accessible, yes, having an accessible stall is nice. But also having spaces for youth who may need like changing tables or may need another individual in the restroom to help them go to the bathroom. Again, it helps them to be able to stay out there and play longer.
So instead of being like, "Okay, well, we went out there, and we played, but he's got to go to the bathroom. So, we need to go home to be able to take care of all that." Well now they can stay there and play longer and engage longer and be part of that. Again, that helps with their quality of life.
-What Should We Know and Do?
Ame Sanders 39:20
So you already touched on that a little bit, but are there things that if we have listeners who are working in philanthropic organizations or in municipalities like you talked about, or just working as activists within their own community, are there things that you wish people would think about or consider or steps that you think they should take to be more supportive for everyone to be outdoors and for the outdoors to be more inclusive?
Chris Sparrow 39:49
Yeah. I think the first thing is we're still at that awareness phase. Even with the golf, that's part of what we're actually doing--going and engaging with different country clubs or different golf courses, and their professionals. Just introducing them to the entire idea that someone in a wheelchair could come out here and actually play golf and do this.
Or, if we want to talk about trails, one thing that I find a lot is because our mountain bikes are wider--we have two wheels out front, my mountain bike is about 41 inches wide at its widest part, whereas most mountain bikes are very skinny. So, they'll make gates that are really close together so that cars can't get through. If you're on a normal mountain bike, yeah, you just cruise right through that. But for me, it becomes a lot more difficult. So, I find myself either having to get into positions that are kind of sketchy to try to get around a gate or trying to get below a gate or I'm just kind of stopped from being able to access places. So, getting people to realize that, yes, there are people out there with disabilities who are engaging in all of these things.
Whatever sport you can think of, there's somebody out there with a disability figuring out how they can do it.
Whether it's a physical disability or visual disability, they're figuring out how they can be part of that. So, just being open to that is a possibility, and we shouldn't necessarily make policies. Making decisions about their business or how they operate based on the assumption that people with disabilities are not ever going to come, there would be a mistake just because we're going to find a way out there one way or another. And so, I think just being open to people with disabilities being there and then just being open to accommodations too. Because not everything is going to no fit for people with disabilities, so make an accommodation so that they are able to ride or they are able to participate.
Very much like I said with how I still use my mountain bike for kind of hiking, a lot of trails don't want to allow e-bikes onto those trails. But for them to kind of make that accommodation of, well, this person is never gonna be able to get out to these places, if they don't have that e-assist or they don't have this piece of equipment to be able to get them there. So, we should let them come and be a part of this. I think it is a big thing, and that's something that we're still trying to work on a lot.
-Ways to Support and Get Involved
Ame Sanders 42:42
I loved what you said just a few minutes ago, where you said, "We're going to find a way to get out there." I love that. And I think you're absolutely right. I loved your suggestions of how we can all open our minds and our practices and our policies and our environments that we're building are supporting to be more inclusive and to make those accommodations that are so important. This has been a great discussion, Chris. I guess the question I have for you, is there anything that we haven't talked about that you want to talk about?
Chris Sparrow 43:17
I think supporting people with disabilities, to be able to do these things goes a long way. These things are very expensive to be able to do all this stuff. It needs the help from the community. It just kind of does. I wouldn't have my mountain bike if I didn't have the help from the community to be able to purchase that. I wouldn't be able to go out and play golf right now if people hadn't given money to Carolina Adaptive Golf so that they could purchase a ParaGolfer.
Same thing with Roger C. Peace. They had people investing and donating money so those things can be bought. And it's not just me. There's probably over 50 different people in wheelchairs who have gone through and used that same ParaGolfer, right? And youth with disabilities too. So, it's providing so much opportunity.
A lot of times, as far as giving and donating money, we may not see those things as things that are vital to people, but it does make such a huge difference in people's lives. So, if you have a sport that you like, or that you enjoy, you can donate money to organizations that help support that for people with disabilities.
Or you can donate your time going out there because, a lot of times, it does require volunteers. When I'm racing my mountain bike, it requires two volunteers to be riding behind me just in case I go over so that they can help get me up. When we're out playing golf, it requires volunteers. I need somebody to help me tee the ball up. Just helping to support our other golfers in different ways.
So, being able to go out there and support the sports that you love and support other people to start engaging in those sports. It's very powerful. It's also on a level of, like, kind of selfishness for those people, it feels really good. You're gonna really like the results of doing that. I've just talked to volunteers that we work with, and they really love doing what they're doing. So, I would encourage people to do that.
Then also, if you are somebody with a disability and you want to start to become an adaptive athlete or to start to go out and try these things, there's a lot of different ways to access that and to get involved. I would say, first look for any kind of local rehab hospitals, because they're more than likely going to have rec therapy programs. I would also look at the individual sport that you're interested in and try to find an organization or nonprofit that's helping to support that in your area.
Then if you're looking to buy the piece of equipment, there are foundations that help to support that. There's things like the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides a lot of support out there. Then depending on what your specific disability is, or depending on the area or the region you live in, there's other foundations and grants out there that are available, too. So, I would just go and do your research. There's a lot out there for you to discover and a lot of people that want to help provide funding to help get those back out there.
Then also going back out to something that we talked about before, as far as ways that people can participate or donate not just your time, your money. For golf, almost my entire bag of clubs are all clubs that were donated to Caroline Adaptive Golf that he kind of put all together and then provides back out to golfers. Because, again, it's an expensive sport. So, for him to be able to say, "Hey, I know you're starting to get into it. Here's a set of clubs for free for you to start off with." It's a big deal. He wouldn't be able to do that if people weren't like, "Hey, I got some clubs for you, Here's that." The same thing with the bikes, too.
One of the guys that we work with through the unemployment initiative, He wanted to get out riding and get back out into biking. So, he went to local rec therapy, and they were doing monthly rides. One of the volunteers who he was riding with, he had a piece of equipment. He had an accessible recumbent. So, a recumbent is something that you use with your legs. But one of his parents had been using it, and they had passed away, and he still had it. And so, he met this guy and was like, "Here. Let me donate this bike to you." So, that was a big life changer for him. Now he could go out there and ride and do that more often.
So, there's tons of ways for people to get involved, get engaged, and donate and give back. And you're getting to play the sport that you love and be a part of that on a bigger level and introduce people who may not have been a part of it before to it or help them get back to something that they love. So, there are so many benefits to it. We just encourage you to go out there and find it do some research, and if it's not there, then create it too.
The mountain bike team I ride with is called Heather's Ride. They're a nonprofit that gives bikes out for individuals with disabilities in public spaces. They have a bike for along the Swamp Rabbit trail. There's a greenway down in Summerville and Goose Creek that they provided bikes for there. So if you want to just try it out or you want to ride for the weekend, you can do that. But he always talks about, "I didn't know anything. There's nothing like this out there. But I love mountain biking. I love cycling, and I knew people with disabilities who wanted to get into it. So, I just created it, and I started doing it myself." So, he always talks about encouraging. It doesn't matter if it's sports or woodworking, or whatever you're into. Find ways to help people with disabilities engage in that because it really helps up their quality of life.
Ame Sanders 50:20
Chris, this has been an incredible discussion. Thank you for your time today and for the work that you do in helping to make the outdoors more accessible, and general life more accessible for the folks that you work with. Thanks so much.
Chris Sparrow 50:36
Yeah. Thank you for bringing me on and allowing me to talk about this and hopefully open up some people's eyes and get some people into some adaptive sports.
Ame Sanders 50:50
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Guest: Chris Sparrow
Host: Ame Sanders
Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson
Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski