San Juan College hosts disabled sports camp

Physically disabled children in Farmington participated in wheelchair basketball, adaptive cycling, rock wall climbing and more at San Juan College the past three days

Jake Newby

FARMINGTON — The inaugural Carrie Tingley Pediatric Adaptive Sports Camp invaded San Juan College this week, giving physically disabled children the opportunity to be active and have fun.

Joseph Lee rides a bike with help from volunteers on Wednesday during the Carrie Tingley Pediatric Adaptive Sports Camp at the San Juan College's Human Health and Performance Center in Farmington.

Sponsored by the University of New Mexico's Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation and Witten's Warriors — a local nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about cerebral palsy — the adaptive sports camp has allowed 11 children with permanent physical disabilities, ages 6 to 18, to participate in sporting activities at the college's Health and Human Performance Center.

The three-day camp, which ran from Wednesday until today, included wheelchair basketball, adaptive cycling, rock wall climbing, archery, arts, water balloon fights and more. Camp director Katie Ashley, an outpatient pediatric therapist at the San Juan Regional Medical Center, gathered volunteers to assist the campers and coordinated the activities. She said this week was a major success.

"It has been a magical experience," Ashley said. "We have had multiple moments this week where we had planned to only last 30 minutes, 'cause we thought riding cycles would tire them out. Then, two hours later, we were having to encourage kids that, 'OK, it's time to move on now.'"

Many campers, like 13-year-old Jeffrey Deane, participated in physical activities for the very first time. Deane's mother, Rebekah, said her son had a blast at the camp.

"Yesterday, he loved being on the basketball court with everybody. He thought it was the greatest thing," Rebekah Deane said.

She said the sports camp has given her son an outlet to tap into his physical potential.

"Doing this has kind of reopened our eyes to what he's capable of," Deane said. "He's had so much fun; he got to ride a bicycle for the first time, and now we're actively pursuing getting a bicycle for him."

Deane said the volunteers and the San Juan College Fitness Center employees treated the participants like "kids who want to have fun," rather than patients. Ashley assembled roughly 20 volunteers to assist the kids and lead the activities.

Sammy Cordova, 15, makes it to the top of the rock climbing wall during the Carrie Tingley Pediatric Adaptive Sports Camp on Friday at the San Juan College's Health and Human Performance Center in Farmington while college employee Eliza Elsbury watches.

The college did its part to make the camp a hit by purchasing and installing an adaptive ropes course harness, built to safely accommodate disabled people in rock wall climbing. Cody Elledge, director of the Health and Human Performance Center for the past three years, said he was in awe of how well organized the event was.

"These folks here deserve all the credit," Elledge said. "Carlton Downing, the coordinator of facilities and operations, he put all this together. I've kind of been in the background, and I've been an observer more than anything. But the planning that's gone into making it what it was has really been an amazing feat."

Elledge said the camp has been the best program he's seen at the Health and Human Performance Center since he was hired by the college eight years ago.

"We hold a lot of special events for special needs, but this has by far been the best I've seen," Elledge said. "The volunteers, the way it's ran, the smiles on the kids faces when they enter the facility — it's been over the top. I've had a smile on my face for the last three days."

All parties are set on making the camp an annual event. Elledge said he'd love to host it again, while Downing has an eye on expanding the camp next year.

"We're going to speak with Katie about making this bigger and better next year," Downing said. "I think we had 10 to 11 campers. What we're hoping is to get closer to 15 to 20 next year and continue the program. This is by far the best event we've ever put on here."

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.