What SPOFIT Means to Me
By Roger Ferland
I have been disabled since March of 1970. I lost both legs during combat in Vietnam. In those days, the goal was to provide medical care and equipment such as wheelchairs, prostheses, crutches, hearing aids, etc. Basically, you were taught to use the medical equipment, given limited vocational rehabilitation or similar training, and limited assistance with adaptive housing. From there you were pretty much on your own. I was fortunate because my disability was related to military service so I had much greater access to certain resources than most of the disabled. Since then things have improved radically. The availability of resources and its effectiveness has improved with new technology. There remains, however, gaps in meeting needs of the disabled that even a few years ago we had not fully recognized as gaps. SPOFIT is one of the unique facilities to address those needs and they are my needs.
Since the late 1970’s, I have appreciated the importance of fitness in working with my disability. I have exercised primarily with individual activities and, specifically, cycling with a handcycle and working out with weights. I just learned about the availability of handcycling by chance. No one told me about it as part of rehabilitation. Handcycles were (and are) expensive and there was little or no training available as to how to use them. Additionally, handcycles are bulky, hard to transport and it’s hard to find repair facilities. Handcycling is a social sport but there were only limited means to organize handcyclist to take advantage of this fact. There are other team activities for the disabled such as wheelchair basketball, rugby, etc. but they suffer from some of the same limitations. Indeed, prior to SPOFIT and similar programs run by cities and NGOs, there were few organizations or an infrastructure to provide the means or the encouragement for the disabled to engage in adaptive sports at either the group or individual level. When the organization and training existed it tended to be limited to specific individual groups such as disabled veterans rather than the wider disabled community. SPOFIT addresses the deficiency by providing a central mechanism to supply the organizational components, equipment and training and the needed encouragement to make adaptive sports possible.
In addition to improvements in technology and training for the disabled, we have also learned the many psychological benefits of fitness to the rehabilitation process. For myself, my attitude, mental efficiency and energy level as well as my health generally improves greatly when I properly exercise. While these are all positive results to be expected for everyone who engages in physical activity, the benefits are multiplied for the disabled, who do not typically have access to the equipment and training that SPOFIT provides.
The particular adaptive sports and fitness programs provided by SPOFIT not only enhance the physical benefits of exercise but are particularly and uniquely effective at increasing the psychological benefits. For example, I know that participating in one fitness activity exposes me to the opportunities provided by other activities also provided by SPOFIT. The availability of SPOFIT encourages me to try these activities. Engaging in the activities gives me confidence that can only be gained by trying things that I didn’t know were available or that I could do. The confidence learned in participating in team as well as individual sports translates directly into giving the disabled the tools needed to succeed in life in areas well beyond sports and fitness. SPOFIT creates opportunities through sports for me to learn about myself and that knowledge gives me the inner strength to meet other challenges. Observing a kid shoot a basket from a wheelchair or swim the length of the pool who previously thought their disability would prevent them from leading an active life shows why SPOFIT is special. We who use SPOFIT services are inspired and spread the word to others.
If you had asked me two years ago whether I could row, play wheelchair tennis, bowl or do a half dozen activities or sports provided by SPOFIT, I would have had my doubts. Now I not only know there are opportunities for me in areas I was unaware of, but taking advantage of those opportunities has changed my life in many positive ways. That is what SPOFIT does and why it is so important.