Posted Thursday, October 25, 2018 @ 8:23 PM
Jerry Diaz is used to using only his hands and biceps, because unlike most people he can’t use his legs.
However, there is a place at UCF and Central Florida for people just like Diaz. A community of people thriving with lower and upper limb injuries, spinal cord injuries, hearing and visual impairments, and intellectual disorders. Like Diaz, they scale rock climbing walls, spike volleyballs, score goals, baskets, and game winning points. It’s called inclusive and adaptive recreation and every year UCF and the Recreation and Wellness Center celebrate people of all abilities during its Inclusive Recreation expo.
“Adapt and conquer. That’s my little motto,” Diaz said.
This year’s expo, a daylong celebration of inclusive and adaptive sports, emphasized the importance of community.
The UCF Inclusive recreation team partnered with the Inclusive Adaptive Sports and Recreational Activities Workshop (IASRAW) to bring students, community members, and local adaptive recreation organizations together to strengthen and promote several inclusive rec programs. Christopher Pruitt, one of the event coordinators and partners representing IASRAW and the Greater Orlando Spinal Cord Injury Network, said the partnership really is about strength in connections.
“We wanted to highlight all of the programs that we do have but also work together as a community with some of our community leaders to bring them all together to see if we can build upon the programs that we have but also get it under one roof and one centralized location,” Pruitt said.
The event showcased activities such as wheelchair basketball with the Magic Wheels (Orlando’s National Wheelchair Basketball Association team), wheelchair rugby with a professional team called the Orlando Clash, adaptive diving with an organization named Diveheart, and an opportunity for people with disabilities to climb UCF’s rock climbing tower. The RWC features a HAUL system which allows people with lower body injuries to climb using a rope and pulley system.
This year’s Inclusive Recreation Expo featured an expanded partnership that included visual, and interactive tables from vendors in the adaptive community. Organizations such as Don’t Dis’ My Ability, Center of Recovery and Exercise, and Aphasia House were a few of the many vendors at this event.
UCF alumnus Hector Del Valle is a part of Don’t Dis’ My Ability, an advocacy group that connects people within the community on a local and national level.
“Find your common resources and help them to grow a little bit by spreading the word or by volunteering,” Del Valle said.
Diaz, a welder/fabricator, was one the community members that Del Valle invited to the event. Diaz is an adrenaline seeker so when watching others climb the wall, he found the HAUL system to be “too boring”. So he climbed it using just his upper body strength, thrilling dozens of spectators.
Melissa Vander Vennet utilized the HAUL system to climb the wall for the first time. She was a professional equestrian who endured a spinal injury after she fell off a horse. She is now a member of the Greater Orlando Spinal Cord Injury Network who acknowledges that the community has played a vital role in her journey.
“The more that anybody is able to meet and interact with people that they may not normally interact with, you know, we reach more empathy and understanding and compassion,” Vander Vennet said.
Jesse Sheplow, a junior studying electrical engineering and member of the UCF chapter of Pi Kappa Phi, attended the event with his friends. He loves to volunteer for organizations such as Best Buddies and Providing Autism Links & Supports. His grandmother suffers from arthritis so he had her in mind when he came out to the expo.
“She’s my motivating factor because I know she would be out here with a smile on her face and I just plan to give every single person a smile on their face and help them any way that I can,” Sheplow said.
UCF’s core values emphasize diversity and inclusivity. Events like this remind people of all abilities to reach out and connect with each other, regardless of our differences, so we can shine a light on people like Diaz who climb to new heights every day.
By Monica Sealey, UCF Journalism Student, with contributions from Scott Mauro, RWC Marketing and Communications Manager