For 26 years, an adaptive sports camp in West Hartford has been helping disabled children and young adults connect with others just like them across New England.
This year, 43 people ages 6 through 20 came from five states to participate in the week-long Hospital for Special Care Ivan Lendl Adaptive Sports Camp. The camp was held on the campus of the University of Saint Joseph. Two-thirds of this year’s participants returned from last year.
“They come here and they’re around a group of their peers and they’re not thinking about their disability. They’re just focused on being children and having fun,” said Carlos Quiles of Meriden.
Quiles went from camper to counselor. He said it helped learn not to let his disability get in the way of what he wanted out of life.
“I’ve been doing it for 19-20 years now, and it’s something that I’m gonna keep doing until I can’t do it anymore because I know what it did for me as a camper,” he added.
DeBrandson Davidson’s son DJ loved playing sports in high school, but he says those opportunities disappeared after a disability two years ago.
“In our town there’s not too many kids that he knows of that are in wheelchairs,” Davidson explained.
This week he was not alone. He played the sports that he loves and learned new ones, with dozens of other children and young adults just like him.
From tennis to track and field, badminton to bowling, participants played more than a dozen sports.
“The kids come here and they associate spot on with a peer with somebody who looks like them, who has the same disability, who has the same challenges in school, who has the same challenges in life,” said program manager Janet Connolly.
With another week of camp in the books, camper Helen Newman’s already planning for next summer.
“I’m just gonna think about how fun it was and I’m going to look forward to next year and it’s gonna help me with my physical abilities and everything,” said Newman.
The campers say they created lifelong friendships, broke down barriers, and reached goals they never even thought were possible.
“He came here knowing nothing and now he’s going home with a lot of knowledge,” added Davidson.