Graduate students growing adaptive sports program

By Troy Johnson, College of Education, and Carol Nelson, Office of Communications and Marketing; Photos courtesy of Amanda Earnest

 

DSC_0020AUBURN – When Jared Rehm uses a wheelchair, he doesn't think of it as a transportation device. He's rolling on $3,000 worth of sporting goods.

His chair, with its inward-tilted wheels that resemble mountain bike tires, enables him to go cruising for a bruising inside the Student Activities Center. This chair, with its ultra-light 20-pound frame, withstands the punishment that inevitably comes when Rehm and other members of Auburn University's Adaptive Recreation and Sports Program jostle for rebounds and get serious about defense on the basketball court.

"There's a lot of contact,'' said Rehm, a biomechanics graduate student in the College of Education's Department of Kinesiology. "It's controlled chaos, definitely."

Wheelchair basketball isn't so different than the game played by able-bodied athletes. Rehm and the other players shoot with precision, display artful passing on fast breaks and execute crafty set plays. The only real difference is the degree of difficulty. Let LeBron James or Kobe Bryant try to sink a 20-footer while rolling and firing from a seated position.

"These things don't have brakes on them," Woody Thornton '93 said of his sports wheelchair.

Similarly, Auburn's adaptive sports program isn't equipped with brakes. It is steadily gaining momentum thanks to the energy and involvement of Rehm and Nathan Waters, a rehabilitation counseling graduate student in the college's Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling/School Psychology. The pair developed wheelchair sports activities through their assistantships with the university's Program for Students with Disabilities, and have invited participation from non-students.

Even though Thornton is two decades older than most current Auburn undergraduates, the spirit of competition lures him to the Student Activities Center for basketball two days a week. Thornton, who has used prosthesis since losing his legs as an undergraduate student, said he sees potential for Auburn's adaptive sports program to compete against more established programs at other colleges.

"When I came back to school with my prosthesis, I basically just went to class and finished out," said Thornton, a business graduate. "Now, 20 years later, it's neat to be able to see that they have opportunities I didn't have at that time. I'd love to see this take off where they're competitive on the college level."

A formidable team

Waters gained valuable experience in therapeutic recreation while serving as the outdoor adventure director at Camp ASSCA, an Easter Seals camp in Jacksons' Gap, Ala., serving children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Rehm brought a passion for the competitive side of sports, having played for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's wheelchair basketball program as an undergraduate student.

Rehm has also competed in the National Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis Championships. Auburn currently offers basketball and tennis, but Waters and Rehm hopes the program can grow to include quad rugby.

The specially modified sports wheelchairs necessary for basketball and tennis cost approximately $2,500, with wheels priced at $300 apiece. Rehm and Waters obtained a grant from the Christopher Reeve Spinal Cord Injury and Paralysis Foundation, but are seeking additional sources of funding. They have even gone so far as to host a hot dog-eating contest to raise money and awareness.

"Whatever needs [students] have, we'd like to be able to give it to them," Rehm said.
Scott Scroggins, a graduate student in communications who plays wheelchair basketball, said Rehm and Waters have already given plenty. Growing up in Selma, Ala., Scroggins didn't have many opportunities to engage in competitive sports.

"If I wanted to play [wheelchair] sports, I had to go to Birmingham," he said. "It's hard to drive two hours one way. This has been great. I love sports. This is the first time I've played with an organized team. All of my experience playing basketball had been with able-bodied people and it was mainly shooting around in the backyard."

Waters expects the adaptive sports program to be transformational in the lives of other Auburn students. In addition to providing opportunities for exercise and competition, the program may also provide an as yet untapped resource avenue.

"Sports have always been a catalyst for awareness, in general," Waters said. "We can do a lot of research on athletes with disabilities. It's one of those things where we can pull from a lot of different departments and have a lot of people get behind it."

Last Updated: Feb. 4, 2011

Auburn University | Auburn, Alabama 36849 | (334) 844-9999 |
Website Feedback | Privacy | Copyright ©