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Wheelchair game a contest of equals

Adaptive sport enables players

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Disabled and able-bodied players — some more skilled than others — took to wheelchairs for a game of adaptive basketball at the Charlestown YMCA yesterday during a sports clinic sponsored by the Spaulding Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program.

The sounds of wheels whirling and basketballs bouncing across the court were all that mattered at the Charlestown YMCA gym yesterday morning. Wheelchairs moved rapidly back and forth as the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America Celtics taught others how to play the sport they call adaptive basketball.

After some of the drills, a few participants stood up, while others did not.

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Hosted by the Spaulding Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program and the Charlestown YMCA, the clinic involved both disabled players and their able-bodied family and friends.

On the court, everyone was equal - because everyone played in a wheelchair.

“It’s going great, it’s exposing people, as well as therapists, to what’s available out there for adaptive sports, and it’s that next step from rehab after you’re injured,’’ said Craig Bautz, 46, who runs an adaptive sporting program on Cape Cod associated with Spaulding.

Adaptive sports, he said, is about “going out there and being with friends; really just a healthy, active lifestyle.’’

There are also courses in adaptive sailing, kayaking, skiing, and cycling, said Mary Patstone, 42, who directs the program for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

“We feel our role is to introduce people to the sports,’’ she said. “So if anyone here wants to continue to stay involved with wheelchair basketball, they’ll go to that.’’

There was a brief pause as she watched the participants start another drill. “I have the best job on earth,’’ she said, smiling. “I really do.’’

Thomas Dodd, 44, plays for the Celtics, one of four wheelchair basketball teams in the area. He watched approvingly as his teammates schooled the participants in the clinic with dazzling spins and mad dashes to the hoop.

“We did some mobility drills, passing drills, shooting drills, and then we started scrimmaging with them and now they’re pretty much pros,’’ said Dodd, whose team played in a fund-raising exhibition game to benefit Spaulding Adaptive Sports and Recreation after the clinic.

Dodd picked up the sport 18 months after a motorcycle accident robbed him of use of his legs at age 17. He has played adaptive basketball ever since.

“It was a motivational thing to get back into playing sports, after rehab, and going through therapy,’’ he said. “It’s also a way to socialize with people on the same level that you are, basically.’’

“It’s a way to just be peers with someone,’’ he said.

It is also difficult to master. Terry Downey, 49, a volunteer for the event, is no stranger to working with disabled people interested in sports. But she had never tried adaptive basketball.

She said it took a lot of skill to play, but understood how the sport could be helpful in encouraging disabled people during rehabilitation.

“This is the best part; once you get them to the point where they’re back into enjoying things in life that they didn’t know they could do, or didn’t think they could do again, it’s pretty awesome,’’ she said.

At one point during the clinic, everyone gathered for a group photo taken by Steven Gardner, 62, a doctor of internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. For 15 years, Gardner has been compiling a photo essay on how people overcome the limitations of disabilities or serious injuries.

“It’s been an inspirational experience for me,’’ said Gardner.

As lens clicked, the group shouted the Spaulding motto: “Find your strength!’’

Derek Anderson can be reached at derek.anderson@globe.com.
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