Adaptive Sports Connection Strives to Make Sports and Outdoor Recreation Accessible to All
On a clear Sunday morning in early October, a group of volunteers gathered near Alum Creek Lake in Delaware County to prepare for the day’s activities. Bicycles bearing names like “Superman” and “Silver Tadpole” were lined up along a trail entrance, waiting to conquer the rough terrain nearby. The tire pressure of each bike was checked while safety equipment was prepared and tested. Soon, the volunteers would welcome athletes and their families to Discover Mountain Biking, a course designed to teach individuals with disabilities the basics of mountain biking.
The event, hosted by Adaptive Sports Connection in conjunction with the Central Ohio Mountain Biking Organization (COMBO), is one of many adaptive sports programs the organization offers to individuals with disabilities and their families. For more than 30 years, Adaptive Sports Connection has served children, adults, and veterans with disabilities through outdoor and therapeutic recreation and other athletic opportunities.
As Sharon Bucey, President and CEO of Adaptive Sports Connection, shared, the organization engages individuals with a diverse range of physical and cognitive disabilities. Whether an athlete has a brain or spinal cord injury, a limb difference, Parkinson’s disease, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the organization’s goal is the same: to ensure people of all abilities can enjoy the health benefits, freedom, and sense of belonging that comes with recreation and outdoor experiences.
“We all know the tremendous physical and mental benefits of getting outdoors and enjoying recreation,” said Bucey. “It’s so important to make these experiences available to everyone.”
Through its year-round programming and with the support of more than 700 volunteers, Adaptive Sports Connection serves thousands each year, reaching 44 Ohio counties. Whether it’s mountain biking, kayaking, soccer, sailing, or snowboarding, the organization offers adaptive recreational opportunities to all individuals with disabilities, regardless of skill level, prior experience, or age. In fact, Bucey says Adaptive Sports Connection currently works with adaptive athletes ranging from age 3 to age 92.
Beyond the health benefits of sports and recreation, Bucey also emphasized the role these activities play in fostering a sense of connection and belonging.
“A big piece of what we do is keep people connected,” Bucey shared. “Connection is so important for our mental health and well-being. We strive to be a place where people can come and connect.”
Adaptive Sports Connection volunteer David Giesmen follows alongside adaptive rider Eva Simons on a mountain bike trail near Alum Creek Lake.
One of the many ways Adaptive Sports Connection is building community is through its programming for veterans. This summer, the organization partnered with the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Team Red, White & Blue, and the Wounded Warrior Project to host a Veterans Adventure Weekend. The free event welcomed veterans and their families to central Ohio for a weekend of recreation, games, entertainment, and—perhaps most importantly—camaraderie.
“We had veterans from five different states come and one guy said to me, ‘This is healing my heart,’” Bucey said. “You could just see it in his eyes, that sense of connection. We are planning to form a veteran think tank so that we can create programming that is developed by and for veterans.”
In addition to its programming for veterans, Adaptive Sports Connection is also undertaking a capital campaign to build two new, state-of-the-art facilities. The facilities—the Adventure and Wellness Lodge in Shawnee Hills and the Adaptive Sports Complex in New Albany—will each provide spaces for individuals with disabilities and their families to gather, connect, share resources, and support one another. As Bucey envisions it, the new facilities will also serve as places where Adaptive Sports Connection can partner with other nonprofits, hospital systems, and Veterans Affairs clinics to provide holistic support and programming.
“We really believe in collaboration with other nonprofits and that we can all lift each other up,” Bucey explained. “We see this facility as an impact investment for the whole community.”
The Columbus Foundation—along with the generous support of the William H. Davis, Dorothy M. Davis and William C. Davis Foundation and The Walter Foundation, both Supporting Foundations of The Columbus Foundation, The Big Lots Foundation Fund, and other Columbus Foundation donors—has awarded several grants to support Adaptive Sports Connection’s capital campaign.
For individuals who are looking to support Adaptive Sports Connection while also enjoying outdoor recreation, Bucey invites the community to get involved with the organization’s social enterprise, Get Out Adventures. Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, Get Out Adventures offers people of all abilities the opportunity to get outdoors to kayak, cycle, and ski, with 100 percent of net revenue supporting Adaptive Sports Connection.