Despite the long After a difficult and winding road, Jerome Montgomery Jr. feels destined as a student-athlete at the University of Michigan (UM).
Twenty years ago, Montgomery was playing varsity basketball in high school. He caught the attention of college recruiters and hoped to play at the college level. But those dreams were put on hold when he suffered a severe gunshot wound to his spine, leaving him partially paralyzed for 18 months and long-term mobility issues.
“next morning [after my injury], was going to practice in front of a college recruiter,” he says. “Instead, I was in the hospital to have the bullet removed from my back.”
Through a physical rehabilitation program, Montgomery regained most of her mobility. During that time, he was reintroduced to the sport in the form of wheelchair basketball, where he played eight years for the Detroit Wheelchair Pistons before joining his team at UM in 2021.
“When a person first acquires a disability, it can feel like the end of the world. It can be very daunting,” says Montgomery. “When you are in that state of mind and are given the opportunity to go out and still be active, it almost gives you a new life. I am very grateful.” [wheelchair basketball] Because it helped me get out of dark places. ”
Montgomery first joined the university’s wheelchair basketball team in 2021 as a non-student “community member,” but was later persuaded by the team’s head coach, Jessica Wynn, to enroll at UM and pursue a degree in social work. Did. In the fall semester, aged 38, Montgomery entered his first year as a student-athlete.
“Twenty years later, I was given the same opportunity: to play the sport I love at one of the top schools in the country,” says Montgomery. “It’s really a dream come true.”
Wheelchair basketball is one of many activities in the adaptive collegiate or parasport category that provides opportunities for people with disabilities to compete and build friendships. Because of the tremendous impact athletes like Montgomery have, adaptive sports and fitness programs are essential to any organization that values and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, says UM’s Adaptive Sports & Fitness (ASF). Chris Kelly, program coordinator at Program and former college student wheelchair tennis player.
“People with disabilities are no different than able-bodied people,” Kelly says. “We have a desire to compete in sport, we want the same opportunities, we want to be given the same resources. [ASF] It is to provide opportunities for students to come here and experience college sports. ”
Over the past several years, UM has built a robust and multifaceted ASF program. The program includes several adaptive college sports teams, community outreach programs, and recreational fitness initiatives. Sports supported by ASF include wheelchair tennis and basketball, track and field, and para-equestrian. Like traditional teams, adaptive sports teams travel throughout the year and compete against other schools, but are generally much more inclusive. Wheelchair basketball, for example, is open to all genders and people, with or without disabilities.
The ASF program operates the Adaptive Sports & Inclusive Recreation Initiative (ASIRI) and the Rx to Play project with competitive teams. Through ASIRI, ASF is working with Ann Arbor Public Schools to bring adaptive sports into his 6th grade physical education.
“There is an understanding that not everyone with a physical disability necessarily wants to be a competitive athlete or train for the Paralympics. Some just want access to fitness.”
Rx to Play connects ASF staff like Kelley with local health care providers and physical therapists to introduce patients with physical disabilities to adaptive sports and fitness as a means to improve athletic performance. While competitive sports are a key component of his ASF, the program also serves as a space for individuals with disabilities to achieve their fitness goals with trainers who can personalize their regimen based on their specific abilities. To do.
“It is understood that not everyone with a physical disability wants to be a competitive athlete and train for the Paralympics,” says Kelly. There are people.”
Universities continue to invest in adaptive college sports programs to support individuals with disabilities in sports and fitness to ensure evenly distributed competitive teams across higher education as the Paralympic Games gains traction is important, says Kelley. Ultimately, parasports advocates, including Kelly and Montgomery, want parasports to be integrated into the NCAA and the Pro League.
“It’s our time. [Adaptive sports are] It’s getting better and better,” says Montgomery. “There are intercollegiate teams, but they are not as broad as their potential. I definitely see the NCAA catch up and come up with programs and strategies to make people with disabilities more inclusive. “●
This article was published in the January/February 2023 issue.