Ashley Thomas, a parakayaker and the executive director of Bridge II Sports, a Durham-based nonprofit that provides physically challenged adults and children with the opportunity to play individual and team sports, spoke on the importance of community when it comes to para-athletics.
“The world of adaptive sports is a small, small world, and you end up knowing everyone from across the country,” said Thomas, who also spoke Thursday at an event arranged by Groff’s class.
“Diane (Groff) came across my world multiple times, and I first engaged with her eight or nine years ago.”
Promoting the Paralympics, which will receive 52 hours of coverage across NBC and NBCSN, is one feature of the class, but there are many more hands-on aspects, said senior Andrew Tugman, an exercise and sport science major.
Students in the course spend time evaluating fitness facilities in the area on their handicap accessibility. They also must contribute 16 hours of service.
Groff said she has enjoyed seeing her class work on the project.
“The response to this project is going fantastic, and I think that it’s been a great learning experience, and I will definitely figure out some way to continue this group effort next year,” she said.
Thomas said while the Special Olympics and mentally handicapped athletes have earned mainstream recognition, the fight for greater awareness of the Paralympics and para-athletics is ongoing.
“I wish the Paralympics were more known, and I wish we had more opportunities in school systems early on that would engage kids in a meaningful way, and I just don’t think we do that,” she said.
Thomas said unlike most Olympic athletes, Paralympians do not give up their day jobs to train for the competition — it just becomes another part of their lives.
“Whether it’s academically, performing in a job or performing in sports, you don’t see disability as a negative, it’s just another modifier to the way we describe a person.”