Blog | November 10, 2016

Paralympians Teach Students with Disabilities to Believe in Themselves

An innovative program in Ohio brings together high schoolers to foster an academic mindset, part of the deeper learning philosophy

Before the Paralympics in Rio took place this summer, an organization called Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, in collaboration with Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio (ASPO) and Champions for America’s Future, held a sports competition as part of a larger leadership training program for 11th and 12th graders who have a disability.

The focus of the program was to teach participants a specific set of deeper learning skills such as critical thinking, effective communication, and self-confidence. After all, these young people will soon be entering the workforce or going to college—a major transition in life that will present many challenges. Deeper learning incorporates foundational skills that can help students succeed in whatever career path they take in life. Believing in oneself is critical to success.

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Joining the 60 students were Paralympian Blake Haxton and Paralympian hopeful Casey Followay. Blake has recently completed law school at Ohio State University. As a teenager, Blake was a gifted competitive rower in Ohio, and even after a bacterial infection forced a double leg amputation, he did not stop achieving his dream.

Meanwhile, Casey holds state records in track in Ohio, and is ranked third in the U.S. in his classification in track. His work ethic and persistence has propelled him to become an elite wheelchair athlete. Both athletes served as role models at the event, having learned how to overcome personal challenges through perseverance, and an academic mindset.

Over the five-day session, the teenagers participated in various competitions that challenged their vision, hearing, and mobility. Working together as a team and using their bodies in sports activities transcends competition and instills confidence to overcome the obstacles encountered in college, at a job, and in life.

Lisa Followay, Casey’s mother and Executive Director of ASPO, was thrilled to be a part of this event, for the confidence it builds for the kids.

“I believe that sport events like this have the power to influence individuals with disabilities in a positive and meaningful way, not just physically but socially and emotionally as well. Through sports, grit, tenacity, and independence are achieved in addition to the belief in oneself, despite the presence of a disability.”

For everyone, every day brings its own obstacles—whether big or small. But these teenagers are learning to build confidence in their abilities, so they’ll have the skills and confidence to take life by the horns.

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