Because of her own experience, Thomas founded Bridge II Sports to give those with disabilities the opportunity to play adapted sports. Bridge II Sports offers 10 different adapted sports, including basketball, archery and boccia.
The organization also partners with universities and businesses to spread awareness about disabilities and does policy work on a state and federal level.
UNC professor Diane Groff teaches a class on disability, culture and introductory therapeutic recreation. One of Groff’s students, junior women’s lacrosse player Katie Kinsey, decided to do a project to raise money for a sports disability program. From there, Bridge the Gap began.
“The entire class has worked the whole semester long to pull the tournament together,” Groff said.
Bridge the Gap had an initial goal of raising $2,500. The organization has raised a total of $5,185 on its GoFundMe page as of Sunday evening. Groff said the total did not include all the money raised during the tournament. All proceeds went to Bridge II Sports.
“Doing the tournament is a very hands-on experiential way to really help our community come together to learn about and increase awareness of individuals with disabilities,” Groff said.
Kinsey said working with a camp for disabled children over summer 2015 sparked her drive to help those with disabilities.
She said she originally worked on the project alone and thought it would only raise a few hundred dollars. When she ended up in Groff’s class, she pitched the idea, and her class got on board to turn Kinsey’s dreams into a reality.
“The coolest thing about all of this has just been the development,” Kinsey said. “It’s just been really awesome to see everyone kind of come behind this and support it and see how much it can grow.”
Bridge II Sports provided all wheelchairs and officials for the tournament. The event allowed students who did not have disabilities to experiment with getting around in a wheelchair.
“It takes a lot of coordination,” said first-year Elijah Kerr-Brown.
UNC junior Mallory Young said the hardest part was steering and trying to shoot from a sitting position, but she liked the goal of the tournament.
“It seemed like a really great way to have a lot of fun playing basketball in a different way but still raising money for a good cause,” Young said.
For Thomas, Bridge the Gap and similar events are breaking down stereotypes about people with disabilities and showing how they can be an integral part of society.
“Really, (we’re) changing how we as a society see disability and hopefully break(ing) down some of those barriers and understanding and enabling those with limits to be a part of our community in a meaningful way,” Thomas said.