A Commitment to Central Oregon’s Disabled Athletes
Once warm weather forces the chill from the air, Central Oregon athletes trade in their skis and snowboards for bicycles and kayaks. For most, the change requires a simple garage rearrangement, a fresh coat of sunscreen and a trail map. But locals with disabilities look to non-profit Oregon Adaptive Sports (OAS) to help provide “life-changing outdoor recreation experiences at a low cost.”
Initially focused solely on winter activities, OAS is gearing up for its fourth summer season of activities and events.
“Our summer programing is always dependent on weather, but generally starts in May and will wrap up in September,” says Executive Director Suzanne Lafky.
A Humble Beginning
OAS was started by Jack Alexander, an avid skier who over and over again witnessed children and adults with disabilities having difficulty with the sports they loved. To help these eager athletes, Alexander started a program that involved people who understood physical and cognitive disabilities and were passionate about encouraging people to achieve goals they never thought possible.
OAS participants struggle with a wide range of cognitive disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and ADHD. Physical disabilities include spinal cord injuries, amputations and complications from strokes.
It Takes a Village
“Volunteers are very critical to the OAS programming,” remarks Lafky, a four-year veteran of the organization. “Without our volunteers, OAS would not be able to offer our amazing experiences.”
Instructors and volunteers are trained on specific adaptive training techniques, in addition to scheduling and securing equipment.
“As the summer program grows, the number of volunteers involved and the training sessions offered increases,” explains Lafky. “Last year we had over fifty volunteers actively involved with our participants.”
OAS offers cycling, hiking, golf, and paddling programs on a regular basis, including a specific activity, scheduled bi-monthly, geared towards individuals with visual impairments. During the summer months, OAS also offers a weeklong adaptive youth camp and a weekend for veterans and their families that includes various adaptive activities. OAS focuses on what their participants can do and not what they can’t do. They utilize equipment for adaptive use such as hand-cycles, tandems, tricycles and recumbents. Specifically-designed products allow OAS to customize golf clubs, cycles and kayaks.
“Our inventory of summer gear is limited, but we’re committed to expanding the inventory in the next few years to include more bicycles, climbing gear and additional paddle sport vessels,” explains Lafky.
Funding the Programs
As with any non-profit organization, OAS’s programs, services and equipment rely heavily on donations, grants and fundraisers to keep their mission alive and their goals met.
“Awareness and education about our programs is the largest obstacle to our fundraising,” emphasizes Lafky. “Our community is growing every day, so it’s continually challenging to raise awareness about our programs.”
Bigstock, an all-day music festival celebrating life, love, and music, is OAS’s biggest fundraiser of the year. OAS has been fortunate over the last several years to draw local and national talent to their Bend-based festival. This year, Bigstock will feature Los Lobos, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Franchot Tone on Saturday, August 13. Tickets are available by invitation only.
As part of their mission statement, OAS strives for their “participants to gain confidence, build self-esteem and strive for independence leading to an enhanced quality of life.” Lafky, and the entire OAS team are so committed and passionate about their organization that raising awareness is not just a job; it’s a lifestyle.