While collegiate adaptive sports programs pop up nationwide, the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU Boulder) has its own, unique approach in creating an inclusive environment for students.
The university offers the free use of inclusive ice sleds and walkers at the campus rec center’s ice rink for persons with or without mobility impairment.
This activity acts as part of the school’s Adaptive Sports and Recreation program that first began in spring of 2021. Other adaptive opportunities include wheelchair tennis and basketball, goalball, and adaptive training and cardio equipment.
Nicole LaRocque, the associate director of Recreation Programs at CU Boulder, said her department got the idea from a student. This individual wants more inclusive recreation at the school.
The student is Kyle Taulman. Taulman is paralympic alpine skier who recently earned his spot in the 2022 Beijing Paralympics. LaRocque said they joined forces with Taulman and the school’s disability services to create an Adaptive Sport and Rec Task Team.
“This program is in its infancy,” said LaRocque. “We started off strong getting funding to purchase six multi-sport wheelchairs and getting a good website put together. We presented at the CU Health and Wellness Summit and the CU Inclusive Sports Summit and offered a variety of programs.”
She said the newly formed task team went on a field trip to the Olympic/Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. There, they learned more about adaptive sports and kicked off the new program.
Barbara Bogner, the assistant director of aquatics and ice rink at the Student Recreation Center, purchased the inclusive ice sleds. She did so after meeting with Colorado Sled Hockey for insights on sled costs, maintenance and repair.
Bogner said the Paralympics and beginning design phases for the new ice rink were actually at the forefront for getting the sleds.
“Putting in ADA access after the fact was cost prohibitive,” said Bogner. “So, while working with the architect as well as the dasher board company, we made it part of the design package. I worked with the distributer, and we have slowly grown the sled hockey fleet to where it is today.”
Successes, Struggles and Advice in Unique Adaptive Sports
While LaRocque said the inclusive ice sledding is a “tremendous asset” to their recreation programs and ice rink. However, there are some speed bumps.
“Our first year we had less than 30 students participate with only a few students requiring the adaptive modality,” said LaRocque. “This is not about the numbers. We are committed to this invaluable offering. There is more work to do to understand what our students need and what they want so we can serve them better. We will also be working with University Admissions to incorporate this information into campus tours and recruitment.”
Feedback from the student body is positive, but she said a struggle exists with creating more interest from disabled students.
However, LaRocque insisted the value of the program isn’t in pure numbers but in supporting the wants and needs of every student — no matter how unique.
“To us, recreation is about community, connection and belonging,” said LaRocque. “If we focus on the numbers then we are not supporting valuable members of our campus. It’s not about how many people show up. It’s about wellness opportunities for all students.”
The inclusive sleds also provide a service to the community.
Bogner said physical therapists at Craig Hospital — a nearby hospital in Englewood, Colorado, specializing in spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury — used their facility and sleds for rehabilitation.
Moving forward, the hope for adaptive sports at the CU Boulder is to reach its full potential once more students participate.
But for now, LaRocque provides valuable advice for other institutions thinking about starting their own unique adaptive sports program.
“Be patient. Stay committed to the process because it’s not always easy,” said LaRocque. “Don’t let participation numbers dictate your actions. Strong campus partnerships will help with success. There are many amazing programs out there. Learn what others are doing and see what fits for your institution.”