It's a misconception that children with physical disabilities can't play competitive sports like tennis or basketball. "Any sport you can think of can be adapted so that participants who may not be your typical athlete can get involved and play," explains Jessica Cloy, a BlazeSports coach and seven-time Paralympic medalist in track and field.
Born out of the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, BlazeSports is on a mission to help children, adults, and veterans with disabilities increase independence and experience success through adaptive sports.
"Having programs like Blaze is vital," Coach Cloy continues. "Think about able-bodied youth athletic programs – there are many of them in just one town. The message you get is that you can do anything you want… as long as you're not a kid with a disability."
With funding from Comic Relief US through our partner Laureus, BlazeSports has been able to help thousands of kids with disabilities learn invaluable life skills and gain confidence.
Titus is a 10-year-old math aficionado who discovered a love for wheelchair basketball, tennis, and track and field through BlazeSports. Though a progressive mitochondrial disease makes it difficult for Titus to play in traditional ways, adaptive sports have allowed him to pursue his passions and find a community.
"I like Blaze because I feel like I'm more included in life," he told us. "I don't feel like I'm alone in this world. I don't feel like I'm the only kid in a wheelchair."
In fact, Titus got into his very first wheelchair at Blaze. Walking from class to class had become increasingly difficult for Titus, so his doctors told his parents that it might be time for them to consider a wheelchair. His mother, Victoria, was hesitant, unsure if Titus would like being in a wheelchair. But much to her surprise, a training session with a sports wheelchair at Blaze unlocked something within Titus and changed his whole outlook on mobility.
"We showed up to our first basketball practice at Blaze, and they had a wheelchair ready for him to use," she says. "He thought it was the coolest thing ever. He asked to bring it home and started learning how to do tricks on it right away."
"It's truly been life-changing for Titus and our whole family," she adds. "Blaze showed us that this was a way of giving more life to Titus, of helping him to achieve more. He was starting to struggle with the difference between his peers at school and the things that he was missing out on. Blaze has helped Titus become stronger, and he has an outlet for his competitive drive. It is a place where he fits in and can connect with other kids like him who have challenges."
When young people like Titus are able to take to the field and join a team of athletes that move and look like them, they can imagine a different place for themselves in the world. Basketball, soccer, football, and track and field might just be games, but for Blaze participants, they are gateways to new ways of being.
"Our athletes are champions," says Executive Director of BlazeSports Dawn Churi. "They've probably fought harder than most of their peers. Everyone knows the benefits of sports, from physical activity to learning leadership skills and teamwork. But for kids to explore and reach their potential, whether as an artist or an athlete, they need to know it's a possibility. They see that here."