03 October 2009

SportsAbility to bring outdoor activities to those with disabilities

| Ocala.com | Star-Banner | Ocala, FL

By Andy Fillmore

Published: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 6:30 a.m.

Diane Leaf has been toiling almost a year for grins.

Or, more specifically, smiles.

Since January, Leaf, program supervisor for the city of Ocala Recreation and Parks Department, has been working on a joint venture with Marion County Parks and Recreation and the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association to bring SportsAbility to the area.

SportsAbility - open to the public and free to participants and spectators - is a two-day event aimed at making park and outdoor leisure activities accessible to those who encounter barriers to healthful leisure time.

Leaf, a certified therapeutic recreation therapist, said the event will be fun for participants experiencing something they may never have done because conventional playground and sports equipment would not accommodate their wheelchairs or allow accessibility.

"My joy is seeing the smiling faces," Leaf said.

SportsAbility literature lists some benefits of outdoor activity as better overall health and avoiding additional health problems.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to be involved with healthful and relaxing leisure activities, Leaf said.

"Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, there may not have been the same opportunities," she said.

SportsAbility is a program of the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association. Outdoorsman David Jones founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1990 after a hunting accident left him with paralysis in his left side. He wanted to establish a means to allow people with varying physical capabilities to start or continue to enjoy the benefits of outdoor activities, Leaf said.

"Individuals have participated with conditions from arthritis to cerebral palsy," she added.

During the event, activities at the MLK Recreation Complex and the Ed Croskey Center's Hampton Aquatic Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday will include wheelchair basketball, adaptive golf and tennis, bocce, laser target shooting, an interactive fishing simulation and therapeutic horseback riding. An adaptive aquatics demonstration and pool party are on the agenda.

An exposition on the recreation complex grounds will include sponsor displays with information about adaptive equipment such as custom-made sit-to-ski chairs. The Pyramid Players, sponsored by the Marion County Children's Alliance, will provide song and dance entertainment at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

In the same timeframe Saturday, events will take place at the Carney Island Recreation and Conservation Area in Ocklawaha. They will include skiing programs by U Can Ski 2, sailing, canoeing, kayaking and pontoon boat rides. Also on tap are archery, target shooting, fishing and nature presentations.

A free hamburger and hot dog lunch will be available, while supplies last.

Therapeutic horseback riding also is planned that day, and Betty Gray of Stirrups 'n' Strides is planning to bring Morgan horses Barney and Knickee. Gray's daughter, Kathy, is a national award winner in Special Olympics riding.

"It's miraculous what riding has done for Kathy; she would likely be in a wheelchair without it," Gray said.

"Kathy plans to participate in the water sports on Saturday," she added.

Leaf said she hopes for a good turnout.

"I love to help people" in the therapeutic recreation setting, Leaf said. "That inspires me."

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