Wheelchair Basketball Guest Blog Series: Doug Garner
In the course of filming The Rebound, we’ve encountered amazing people who have overcome challenges and defied the odds in their own way. In an effort to help tell some of those stories and spark larger conversations, we’ve kicked off a guest blog series to provide our community with stories and resources that will make an impact. Contact us if you’re interested in having your story shared on The Rebound blog.
Doug Garner is head coach of the University of Texas Movin’ Mavs men’s wheelchair basketball team. He is one of nine people recently honored by theWhite House Office of Public Engagement, named as a Champion of Change: Disability Advocate. The award goes to “long-time disability advocates working to uphold and expand the spirit” of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The author and critic, Kakuzo Okakura once said, “The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”
In other words, life is about adapting. Since I’m heavily involved with adaptive sports as coach of the UTA Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball team, I’d like to share with you how my family adapted and why our power to change means so much.
When I think about my journey into the world of sports for people with disabilities, this quote seems quite fitting. Beginning as a parent of a son born with Spina Bifida in 1986, I had to learn to make adjustments from day one.
Some of these adjustments came easily, such as learning to see and anticipate life from the eyes of a person with physical limitations. Other adjustments, as we were to learn through time, were more involved.
It seems that no matter our desires or willingness to change, many times our environment and culture didn’t necessarily have the same “change” mind set.
Coming from a small town in rural Arkansas, we had to develop the mindset that in order to affect change, we were the ones who needed to help others understand why change was important. That the inclusion of people with mixed abilities matters for communities and how recent changes in the laws dictated not only specific changes, but also the pace of change.
So not only did we, as a family with a child with a disability face change and “readjustments to our surroundings,” we were also in a position of educating others and creating awareness of the rights and mandates of creating an inclusive environment.
As an educator (I taught community college for 15 years) and an owner of a children’s fitness facility with my wife, we had never thought about how to create an inclusive environment for children with disabilities. And now we were in a position of educating not only ourselves, but also others, on the importance of all children having access to healthy physical activity and positive social experiences.
But we did know one thing – we felt very strongly that sport and physical activity were crucial ingredients in the growth and development of young people. Much like the athleticism documented in The Rebound!
This realization is where my journey really began.
Sports in our culture is a billion-dollar (plus) industry. Why? James Michener, in his book Sports in America, even presented Sports as meeting the same roles of Religion in the lives of many people, providing a shared set of language, rules, beliefs, collective experiences and expectations for behavior.
If this is true, it poses certain questions. Such as, what are the choices and opportunities for people with physical disabilities to engage in and enjoy sports?
Are they able to participate at some level, thus making that social connection of shared experiences?
For a person with a physical disability, fitness and participation in sport can be key ingredients to being accepted and part of the conversation. And we found, in the 1990s, that these opportunities were either non-existent or very limited.
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
Never one to spend time regretting a closed door or missed opportunity, our response to our surroundings was to “be the change.” In our best Gandhi-ish efforts, we adopted the attitude that nothing changes in our world if we don’t work to change it.
This is the reality in the world of sports for people with disabilities. If you don’t have a program to participate in, you might have to start one, as is the case with the Miami Heat Wheels as documented in The Rebound!
If you don’t have resources to start am adaptive sports program, you might have to educate others on why you need to start a program and get things started yourself.
We might have to educate our teachers and school professionals. We might have to educate our elected officials and community employees. Every time you speak to someone, participate in an event (local 5K race, playing basketball with your friends), you are educating others on the abilities of people with disabilities.
You are also creating opportunities for families of a child with a disability to realize there are opportunities to get involved. These experiences help break down the perceived “closed door” dilemma and tranforms it into the mindset where they can now see other windows of opportunity.
Exposure to inclusive activities can have a tremendous impact on people with and without physical challenges. Seeing people just like you playing basketball in a wheelchair shows that there are opportunities to, and it can be a life changing experience.
I see my job and my role in the “big picture” as helping to expand the possibilities for others by demonstrating or advocating for inclusive and alternative opportunities. I chose to create the change in my own communities, and hope that each person I affect will carry the torch and continue to share those experiences with others in similar situations. It’s a slow and steady process, but over time we’re seeing that these experiences are beginning to create a world of inclusion for everyone.
We hope you liked this post! If so, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it. It’s part of our mission at The Rebound to make a positive impact, and we’re proud to share stories that inform, motivate, inspire and spark conversation. If you’re interested in contributing as a featured guest writer, please contact us anytime.
Again, thank you. None of this would be possible without you being here reading this, right now. If you have any questions, comments or ways you’d like to get involved, please contact us.