University City

ASAP sports program helps disabled get back in the game

In her 30s, Twila Adams used to tear out of work, race home to her running shoes and spend the better part of the next hour burning up the day’s stress like logs in a raging fireplace.

Then a car accident crushed her C4 and C5 vertebrae and paralyzed the then-36-year-old from the neck down.

A life-altering accident can lead most to believe their days of physical recreation and sports are over, but Adams was one of hundreds who learned about Carolinas HealthCare System’s Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program – a program that helps people with physical disabilities get back in the game.

ASAP offers opportunities to learn how to play adaptive versions of sports and such recreational activities as rugby, tennis, kayaking, cycling, golf and water and snow skiing, either for fun or for competition in leagues.

Adams, now 56, lives in University Park, a University City neighborhood. She joined the program’s weekly tennis practices in 2011, after years believing she would never again feel the rush that came from physical recreation.

“After my accident, there was no running,” she said. “Tennis gave me that feeling of running.”

Most of the program’s participants have endured either a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury, have suffered a stroke or a limb loss, or have cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.

They’re young and old, male and female, and from all walks of life. But they share a common interest in stepping beyond the sidelines. Some play just for fun, while others re-ignite their competitive spirit by joining one of the program’s traveling leagues.

“Our rugby team is currently fifth in their division in the nation. Two of our cyclists are nationally ranked right now. And then we have an adaptive waterskiing team that has competed nationally and internationally,” said Jennifer Moore, ASAP’s coordinator. She’s one of three licensed and certified recreational therapists on staff.

Few programs such as ASAP exist in the state – Raleigh has a similar program – in part because of the expense of adaptive sports.

“Most of the time the adaptations come in the equipment that is needed for them to participate,” said Moore.

Tennis wheelchairs are specially equipped to prevent turning over. Rugby wheelchairs have mechanisms on the front to help players hit the ball. The cost can come in around $2,000 per wheelchair.

ASAP buys the wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment used in the program with money raised by grants and fundraisers throughout the year.

In November, Strokes for Spokes, a round-robin tennis tournament organized by CMC–University President Bill Leonard’s wife, Helen, and their daughters Megan and Molly, netted $12,000 for the program. The annual fundraiser, now in its fourth year, regularly brings nearly 100 tennis players to UNC Charlotte’s courts.

Adams credits ASAP with lifting her out of depression and restoring her love for physical activity at a pace slow enough for her to regain her confidence.

“There was no pressure. It’s just a big, welcoming, open-arms group of people saying, ‘Let’s just try,’ ” she said. “It gave me purpose.”