11 people standing on a basketball court with athletic wheelchairs and a large check written to the amount of $25,000.

Thunderbirds Charities made a commitment in August of 2007 to help fund a project – a dream, really – the goal of which was to build a sports and fitness center for people with disabilities in Phoenix.  It would be one of only two facilities of its kind in the United States, and the only universally-designed, accessible facility in the Western United States.  On October 31st, 2011, this “dream” project became a reality, as the Virginia G. Piper Sports & Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities (SpoFit) opened its doors.  The 45,000-square-foot facility boasts two sport courts, a suspended indoor track, a 35-foot rock climbing wall, a 7,000-square-foot fitness center, a group fitness room and an accessible aquatic center with lap pool, therapy pool and spa.

The SpoFit is a program of Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which provides programs that empower people with disabilities to live independently.  Thunderbirds Charities recognized the importance of this facility and the impact it would have on the quality of life for people with disabilities early on during the capital campaign, and contributed $100,000 towards the facility.  All funds were used towards the purchase of the specialized, accessible equipment that graces the fitness center, or workout area of the facility.

Thunderbirds Charities continued their commitment by providing a $25,000 grant to SpoFit during its first year of operation, helping SpoFit provide adaptive fitness and recreation programs and specialized classes.  As programs began to grow and need and interest dictated, SpoFit began to provide more youth programs, including adaptive sports skills classes.  Youth began receiving instruction and skills training in both wheelchair basketball and power soccer.  As popularity grew, SpoFit approached Thunderbirds Charities to help purchase the specialty sports chairs needed for both basketball and soccer, and once again, Thunderbirds Charities responded.  With a generous grant of $25,000 from Thunderbirds Charities, SpoFit was able to purchase a number of youth sports chairs for basketball and power soccer.  SpoFit went from providing three adaptive sports clinics in its first year to providing eleven adaptive clinics in 2013.

Adaptive sports chairs are expensive, and many families would not be able to afford such a chair in order for a youth to explore a new sport or join a team.  SpoFit is a safe and accessible environment for youth to explore new sports, try out new skills, and find out just what they CAN do.  For children with spina bifida, a spinal cord injury, or other disabilities that prevent them from playing sports without a sports chair, SpoFit provides all kinds of possibilities!  Youth can learn how to use the sports chair, learn skills of the game and interact with others.  SpoFit holds monthly sports clinics, and youth can explore team sports at SpoFit.  The Banner Wheelchair Suns basketball teams, including the junior team, call SpoFit home; team members and coaches also help facilitate the monthly adaptive sports clinics.  More recently, SpoFit began its own power soccer team, the SpoFit Spark.  Thanks to Thunderbirds Charities, we have the equipment necessary for youth to participate in clinics, play on teams, or just experience a new activity and have fun!  For some of our youth, this is the first experience they have had playing a sport.