February 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama

Pakistan Disability Sports Visitors Program

Taking place February 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama at the Lakeshore Foundation, a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site, the program consisted of 12 participants, including eight athletes, two instructors, and two sign-language interpreters.

Upon the delegation’s arrival to the United States, the Pakistani group traveled directly to Lakeshore, where they were welcomed by CSPS and facility staff, including U.S. Paralympian wheelchair basketball player Mary Allison Cook. After a Google Hangout session with representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the group participated in ice-breaker and team-building activities followed by a a tour of the Lakeshore campus.

Throughout the first week, the Pakistani delegation participated in wheelchair basketball, Krank, Zumba, yoga and aquatics classes. For a day off-campus, the group traveled west to cheer on the Lakeshore wheelchair basketball team in Tuscaloosa, where they enjoyed the opportunity to watch high-level athletes competing against one another in a space that was empowering, supportive and inclusive of all persons with disabilities.

The second week literally took participants to new heights. One by one, the athletes strapped on climbing gear and conquered Lakeshore’s state-of-the-art, two-story climbing wall. For all of the participants, this was their first chance to overcome a symbolic mountain of challenges, providing them with more confidence to fight for victory against the obstacles and up-hill battles they would face upon return home to Pakistan.

As the final week of the program came to a close, the athletes never slowed down. They played sitting volleyball, Boccia and American wheelchair football, as well as learned a variety of adapted and inclusive ice-breakers and team-building exercises led by the spectacular staff at Lakeshore.

Off the fields, courts and walls, the participants spent time engaged in active-learning strategies that emphasized identifying local challenges facing women and girls in Pakistan. These strategies highlighted the benefits and joys of sport participation and play, and the importance of creating sport-based projects to tackle the most concerning social issues at home.

The delegation also learned about the history of the Paralympic Games and U.S. policies for persons with disabilities. Thanks to following program partners who presented historical and cultural insights to our participants:

– Ann Cody from the State Dept. and Dr. Lisa Olenik, a professor and director of Academic Disability Services at Huntingdon College, who gave a presentation titled “International Disability Sports and Gender Issues.”

– Linda Coleman, director of Americans with Disabilities Birmingham, who spoke on the 25 years that have passed since the the American with Disabilities Act in her presentation titled “Pledge On!”

Amy Rauworth, associate director of the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, who gave a presentation titled, “Do You Get Enough?”