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The United States Association of Blind Athletes
Educating the World One Athlete at a Time
by Michelle Ortlieb Colorado Springs, Colorado
Sports are unique in the way that they have the power to transcend most cultural boundaries. People of all different abilities and backgrounds are linked together through competition and suddenly placed on an even playing field, where all athletes have similar goals. For some, the goal is to participate as valued members of a team, and for others, it is the thrill of victory.
At the United States Association of Blind Athletes, a community-based organization of the United States Olympic Committee, the goal is to integrate blind and visually impaired athletes into athletic events so they too can participate and find success. USABA strives to serve blind and visually impaired athletes so they can receive the same opportunities as everyone else and compete alongside blind and sighted peers in athletic competition.
Just as much as USABA works for the involvement of blind and visually impaired athletes, it strives to educate the public about the abilities of people who are blind. When the organization integrates a visually impaired athlete into a competition with sighted athletes, it not only empowers the visually impaired athlete, it breaks down negative stereotypes about the abilities of blind people and demonstrates to the world, one game at a time, that people who are visually impaired really can compete in the same ways as people who are sighted.
Blind and visually impaired athletes live in communities all across the nation, and not all of them have the resources in their hometowns to be successful. What USABA works to do is provide the appropriate tools that can be used in community-based programs. Maybe that means an athlete attends a sports education camp, which is a weeklong residential program catered to each athlete's abilities. Maybe it means athletes work one-on-one with coaches who specialize in training blind and visually impaired athletes. The ultimate goal is to provide the skills and resources blind athletes need so they can take them back and use them in their schools, gyms and community sports programs. USABA will even help athletes start their own programs in their local areas. USABA supports events in a variety of sports, including powerlifting, skiing, judo, cycling, track and field, swimming, wrestling, goalball, gymnastics, bowling and lifelong fitness.
USABA has an exciting year ahead filled with events and programs to serve its members. Attending a USABA program gives athletes a jumpstart to getting fit, becoming competitive in sports, acquiring other athletic skills and socializing with friends.
Here are just a few programs on USABA's schedule this year. Visit www.usaba.org to learn more about upcoming events.
Emerging Athlete Camp at the 2008 State Games will be held July 22-29 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. USABA invites interested blind and visually impaired athletes to attend the Emerging Athlete Camp, where they will have the opportunity to work with USABA specially-trained coaches and receive personalized coaching and training tips. After the camp, all athletes will compete in the 2008 State Games, where they will compete with 8,000 athletes from across the country, both blind and sighted (depending on the sport).
USABA is sending its elite national goalball team to the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, which will be held from September 6-17. The Paralympics are similar to the Olympics, but specifically for people who have physical disabilities. Paralympic athletes prove that there is no limit to blind athletes' involvement with sports. USABA athletes will represent the United States in sports competing with the world's best.
USABA was founded in 1976 and has served countless people. USABA is always looking for new members, no matter age, ability or previous experience with sports. The organization has maintained its current size within the last 10 years and would like to continue this trend by strengthening meaningful relationships with partners, including other agencies serving blind people, state schools for the blind and their sponsors.
Blindness shouldn't be an excuse for anyone to skip out on sports or physical fitness--everyone should have the opportunity to get involved with athletics regardless of visual acuity. There are USABA chapters around the country so the organization can serve more athletes. For example, there are active chapters in Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, New York and South Carolina. USABA is currently working to start new chapters in Kansas and Georgia.
The mission of USABA is to enhance the lives of blind and visually impaired people by providing the opportunity for participation in sports. This is accomplished by sponsoring programs at the local, national and international levels and by providing athlete and coach identification and support. USABA encourages everyone to dream big, get involved and never stop striving for goals. To learn how to become a member or get involved, contact USABA, 33 N. Institute St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903; Phone: 719-630-0422; Web site: www.usaba.org .
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