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The Transformative Power of Adaptive Sports Programs

Race using adaptive cycles

For many years, people with disabilities have been using sports as a therapeutic tool. It helps them overcome serious injury or illness and is a means of recovery. They fight their personal battles on the track, in the pool and on the court. Their drive to overcome, recover and push through obstacles sends a powerful message: Serious injury or illness does not interrupt the pursuit of a meaningful and productive life.

Warrior Games with Tiffanie Johnson

Listen to this podcast to hear Tiffanie’s story about navigating life with multiple sclerosis and her involvement in competitive adaptive sports.

Recognizing this, the Department of Defense and the United States Olympic Committee, created the Warrior Games. This inter-service adaptive sports competition showcases the resilient spirit of today’s wounded, ill and injured service members. Athletes from all branches of the military compete against each other in a range of adaptive sporting events. Having overcome severe injuries and medical conditions, the service members embody the warrior spirit. They serve as role models for other survivors worldwide.

The United Kingdom’s Prince Harry founded the Invictus Games after attending the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado. He saw the impact that sports played in the recovery of service members and was inspired to launch a similar event. He designed the Invictus Games for wounded, ill and injured military members and veterans from around the world. It also uses sports to promote healing and support recovery.

Warrior Games, Invictus Games: Sports as medicine

Many athletes say that participating in adaptive sports:

  • Boosts their self-esteem
  • Improves their mental and physical health
  • Increases their strength
  • Makes them more resilient

Recently, scientists began to purposefully measure the effects of adaptive sports programs. They want to determine adaptive sports programs role in rehabilitation.

See these resilient competitors in action! Check out featured videos, stories, photo essays and more:

A holistic approach to recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration

Adaptive sports and other reconditioning activities help service members come to terms with traumatic injuries or illness by inspiring them to realize what is still achievable by focusing on ability.

Adaptive sports promotes holistic growth and achievement by addressing several factors, including:

  • Being part of a team promotes a sense of belonging and peer support, of knowing you’re not alone in your struggle.
  • The opportunity to renew the power of service to country and strong desire to pursue a higher purpose that have always inspired service members in combat and life.
  • Competition rekindles the sense of passion and determination of the warrior spirit that is part of a service member’s DNA, the courage to move forward despite barriers and obstacles.
  • The chance to be celebrated and recognized, supported by family, friends and people from around the world, boosts self-worth and self-efficacy.

Adaptive sports engages service members and veterans mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically and socially. It helps them find hope and strength through their common experiences.

According to the Defense Health Agency’s Warrior Care Recovery Coordination Program, the benefits of physical activity for ill and injured service members also include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Increased quality of life
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved weight management
  • Enhanced rehabilitative process

Finding an adaptive sports program

The Defense Health Agency’s Warrior Care Recovery Coordination Program oversees the Military Adaptive Sports Program. MASP provides reconditioning activities and competitive athletic opportunities to all wounded, ill and injured service members. The program empowers wounded, ill and injured service members through physical and mental activities that engage, stimulate and inspire recovery. Offerings include:

  • A weekly calendar with suggestions for activities service members can do by themselves or with their families to improve their skills and stay connected
  • Virtual clinics in swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair rugby, track and field, healthy mind and body, powerlifting and cooking
  • Access to healing arts initiatives

Each service branch also offers their own wounded warrior program:

In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events cosponsors adaptive sports clinics and competitive events for disabled veterans of all ages and abilities. This includes the Grants for Adaptive Sports Programs, which provides grant funding to organizations to increase and expand the quantity and quality of community-based adaptive sports activities for veterans with disabilities and members of the armed forces. To find out more, visit the VA National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events website.

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