Making Sports Possible with Community Partnerships

MAF Impact Award Logo

2021 Impact Award recipient taps into the power of partnerships to connect people with physical disabilities to recreational activities.

Swimming, handcycling, and wheelchair basketball are just a few of the activities that 2021 Impact Award recipient Adaptive Sports Northwest (ASNW) offers to people with physical and visual disabilities. Through recreational and competitive sports, the organization helps its members build self-confidence, social connections, and new skills to lead a healthy and active life.

The local nonprofit has been providing recreational opportunities to people with physical disabilities in Oregon and Southwest Washington since 1982, serving 300 members and 500 individual participants annually. Members range from ages 7 to 87, with the average age being in the 30-40-year range. “On the surface, ASNW is about providing people who are managing a physical disability with opportunities to participate in sports. But in reality, it’s about so much more,” explains ASNW Executive Director Dave Hanna. “Our activities are really about creating normalcy and socialization and allowing people with disabilities to fully engage in physical activity in a supportive environment, coached by people who understand their unique challenges.”

Many ASNW members have been managing a physical disability their entire life, while some, due to a medical condition or an accident, are new to managing a disability and are transitioning to a more unique and different lifestyle. In all cases, ASNW strives to continually improve participants’ quality of life through sports and recreation.

To accomplish this, ASNW creatively engages with a network of community partners to help serve members in the best way possible. Community partners — including The Standard, Comcast, and Portland State University (PSU) — play an essential role. They provide access to top-notch facilities including tracks, courts, and pools, and have also donated high-quality equipment.

Prior to the pandemic, PSU made its basketball courts and pool available at convenient hours for practice. “When our members get to participate in sports at peak times, that is a powerful form of outreach,” says Hanna. “People get to experience diversity in a different way — not just as spectators on the sidelines, but as active participants in the community.”

ASNW’s partnerships help shift perceptions about what athletes with a disability can and cannot do, and also help the nonprofit reach farther into the community. “Seeing adaptive sports in action helps the public grasp the work we do and the positive outcomes it generates. This attracts new sponsors, new volunteers, and new members,” explains Hanna.

Hanna cites the Multnomah Athletic Club and Multnomah Athletic Foundation (MAF) as particularly supportive partners. Prior to the pandemic, the club served as the venue for ASNW’s annual auction and gala. And once the pandemic disrupted daily life, the foundation proactively checked in to see how things were going. “MAF understood that COVID restrictions could really sideline our members and affect their ability to stay active,” Hanna explains.

That’s why during these unprecedented times, MAF encouraged the grant partner to use its funding in ways that best helps the organization. ASNW plans to apply its current grant funding, including the $2,000 Impact Award, to developing more online content, such as videos and workouts, to keep their members physically active while the virus runs its course.

Current offerings are inspiring and ambitious. Along with more familiar adaptive sports such as wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball, ASNW also offers archery, kayaking, and wheelchair rugby. The organization is also looking ahead at new activities to add to the mix — exploring adaptive tennis, softball, and flag football, which all will encourage members to stretch farther, increase their range of experiences, and continue to expand their lifestyle possibilities through sport.

Written by Laurie Harquail.

Originally published in the November 2021 Issue of The Winged M magazine.