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Sports for All! Southwest Florida offers a range of adaptive sports

Jan 24, 2021 11:50AM ● By Ann Marie O’Phelan
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Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.” Eunice Shriver Kennedy during the first Special Olympics, July 1968

Sinking a basketball, hitting a home run and riding a wave are sports that can be enjoyed by people who use adaptive measures—from teamwork to special equipment. Unified basketball is one example, where special-needs athletes and general-education partners train and work together on the same team. It is offered through Special Olympics Florida with support from Lee County Parks & Recreation and the School Board of Lee County. Bob Wagner’s Wooden Bat Classic is another example, involving team players who are mentally or physically challenged. Surfers for Autism is yet another, providing a safe environment for autistic children and adults to surf.

Offering sports to this segment of the population provides players with a sense of teamwork and builds confidence. “They learn how to strategize and cooperate with others on the team,” says Don Payne, Lee County Parks and Recreation coordinator for Special Olympics. Indeed, the chance to participate in sports offers an opportunity to get out there and enjoy the results of their efforts, no matter what the final score is. “The results are always positive,” adds Payne. Notably, in 2019 the North Fort Myers High School Special Olympics unified bowling team won the Florida High School Athletic Association’s state bowling championship in the Unified Division.

Special Olympics began in the 1950s during a summer day camp—Camp Shriver—that Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver held in the backyard at their Maryland farmhouse. The first year, they hosted 34 students and 26 counselors. In July 1968, the first International Special Olympics was held at Soldier Field in Chicago. This event paved the way for increasing worldwide sports opportunities for those with intellectual and physical disabilities. Special Olympics now attracts more than 3.1 million athletes from 175 countries. 

Opportunities abound today with everything from adaptive fitness challenges to wheelchair tennis to swimming lessons using special techniques. These activities are available for all who want to get out and score one for themselves or for the whole team. Check the list of organizations that provide these adaptive sports.

“You are the stars and the world is watching you,” said Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the 1987 Special Olympics World Games. “By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.” 

Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.

Adaptive Trikes for Kids 

Riding a bike is a childhood rite of passage that should be available to even those children whose disabilities make it difficult to ride. Enter Grampy’s Charities, partnering with Robbie’s Riders to supply custom-made adaptive tricycles to Southwest Florida children with special needs. For the past four years, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank has partnered with Grampy’s Charities and Robbie’s Riders to present the tricycles, according to Amy McQuagge, vice president/director of marketing at the bank. The custom-made trikes allow children to enjoy exercise, gain a chance to socialize and enjoy independence, freedom and the childhood experience of riding a bicycle.  

Grampy’s Charities
261 Ledyard St, New London, CT 06320

Robbie’s Riders/Save the Kid Fund
153 Boston Post Rd #455, East Lyme, CT 06333           

Sanibel Captiva Community Bank
2475 Library Way, Sanibel, FL 33957


Adaptive Sports in Southwest Florida

A number of groups provide many different opportunities for Southwest Floridians of all ages with special needs.

Around the Clock Fitness 
Adaptive Fitness Challenge 
1755 Boy Scout Drive, Fort Myers

Best Buddies
5237 Summerlin Commons Blvd., Suite 105, Fort Myers

Bob Wagner’s Wooden Bat Classic
10180 Via Colomba Circle, Fort Myers

Cape Coral Yacht Club Community Pool
Angel Fish Swim Instruction
5819 Driftwood Pkwy., Cape Coral

GiGi's Playhouse
Friends, Fun & Fitness 
1901 Brantley Rd., Unit 11, Fort Myers

Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Florida
1915 Don Wickham Dr., Clermont

Lee County Parks and Recreation
Adaptive Sports
3410 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers

Lee County Community Tennis Association
Special Olympics Tennis
PO Box 07118, Fort Myers

Pickleball for All
8187 Sanctuary Dr., #2, Naples

Special Equestrians
5121 Staley Rd., Fort Myers

Special Olympics

Surfers for Autism
2201 SE Indian St, Suite H-16, Stuart

Tim Tebow Foundation
Night to Shine
2220 County Road 210 W, Suite 108, PMB 317, Jacksonville

Trailways Camps