Wheelchair Sports Federation is a national non-profit that provides opportunities for the disabled and wheelchair-bound adults and youth to play sports recreationally and competitively. While Adaptive Sports such as Wheelchair Basketball have been around since post-WWII, other Adaptive Sports like Wheelchair Football are relatively new to the adaptive athletic population. The Wheelchair Sports Federation is one of the first organizations to provide adaptive athletes with the opportunity to participate in a multitude of Adaptive Sports.
The Wheelchair Sports Federation can trace its birth to the Adaptive Sports programs created at the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association in New York City. Adaptive Sports Teams were created with the help of local professional franchises in the New Jersey/New York Area, such as the NJ Nets, to support adaptive sports teams. Though many successful networks were created, the Association decided to stop funding the teams and focus their efforts on other issues related to the spinal cord injured.
Around the same time, Al Youakim, a dedicated coach and volunteer in the field of adaptive sports had passed away. Al had not only taught and coached adaptive sports athletes for 60 years, but actually played a part in developing the field of adaptive sports.
Al’s journey began when he visited his brother, who was paralyzed fighting in World War II, at the VA hospital. During those visits, he would take his brother outside to play basketball. A simple gesture grew into a passion, and Al continued to not only develop these various Adaptive Sports, including track and field, but he also propelled adaptive athletes to win gold medals. His commitment to adaptive athletes everywhere inspired hundreds and a core group of volunteers, who had helped build strong professional franchise relationships for adaptive sports teams, to continue his legacy even when the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association no longer could. What started as a small group of dedicated volunteers is growing into an impactful non-profit organization dedicated to continue to support Adaptive Sports Athletes and Teams with equipment, instruction, and playing opportunities. All the volunteers agree, Adaptive Sports Athletes keep us inspired. They agree that life can be hard when you’re able-bodied, and then you see those with disabilities with tougher challenges truly enjoying their sport and life, you then understand how much playing sports has changed their lives—it keeps us inspired and motivated. A telling statistic also reminds us of how important the Wheelchair Sports Federation is to these athletes: “When individuals become disabled after a major injury most of them remain inactive for an average of 10 years. But once they get ’off the couch’ and try an adaptive sport—whether they like it or not, it makes them feel better and know they can do it.”