The National Sports Center for the Disabled: Finding Self-Confidence through Personal Challenge
Editor’s Note: The National Sports Center for the Disabled, founded in 1970, provides a variety of adaptive sport, therapeutic, and recreational programs for people of all ages and disabilities. Josh Thurmond, the Metro Program Director, gave us the play by play.
I’m the program director for Denver and the Front Range. I also run the Denver Team River Runner Chapter, which serves wounded veterans for white water paddle sports. With NSCD, we’re currently developing a huge new library of programming options. We traditionally operated at a really low level in the Denver area and focused mostly on our Winter Park offices. Then about two years ago, I realized that most of our clients actually live in Denver. So, we started serving people directly in Denver and we have been drinking from the firehose ever since. It’s awesome!
We were founded 47 years ago by Hal O’Leary. He decided that he wanted to bring some kids out to try adaptive skiing. They started off pretty small and it grew very quickly. Now it is probably one of the top two or three largest adaptive ski programs in the world. We’re also running a massive program outside of our ski program. This year, we’ll do about 17,000 lessons and serve about 3,500 individuals, not counting return visits.
We’re highly focused on people returning, working through their therapeutic goals and also reaching their athletic goals.
From the South Platte to the Front Range
- Camping & Hiking: – Fully adaptive camping facility with hiking trails in the mountains, donated by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and maintained by the National Forest Service and NSCD
- Therapeutic Horseback Riding: – Eight horses at the therapeutic horseback riding center at Strawberry Creek Ranch in Granby, Colorado
- Urban Sports – In Denver – boxing, climbing, a Ninja Warrior course, stand up and sit down paddle boards and urban rafting on the South Platte River.
- Urban Adventure Series – Includes several weeks of learning a variety of urban sports
- Ice Climbing – Coming next winter
- Airgun Team – In partnership with the Denver Police Department
We also run ability clinics with all of the pro sports teams here in Denver.
We set up a free experience day at Mile High Stadium with the Broncos players and everybody gets to come out and throw footballs, run drills and play some games. We have ice skating with the Avalanche, and the same goes for soccer with the Rapids and baseball with the Rockies. It’s pretty easy to love the experience.
Editor’s Note: For more details on the activities offered and how to participate, visit http://nscd.org/participate.
Cost to Participate
There is a buy-in portion to our programs. We give the retail cost. If you pay more, you’ll help support somebody else. If you can’t pay today, then our family will help you make it work and cover you this time. It’s a really nice model. Some of our ski programs are extraordinarily expensive to maintain but remain some of the lowest cost of any in the industry for our athletes. Our horse program is the most expensive, but we make sure everybody has access. However, we also want people to have a buy-in. I’ve found over the years that there’s a level of if I don’t have a little bit of skin in the game, I may not show up, and then I’ve taken somebody else’s spot. We’re cognizant of that, but it’s not a limiting factor. We’re not going to say you can’t come because you don’t have money. That’s the last thing we’ll do.
We have a highly successful competition center with about 40 athletes who are training year-round. They train in New Zealand in the summer time. They race year-round for us in skiing and snowboarding. We’ve trained some of the most notable Paralympians ever, which is pretty exciting.
We have about $4.5 million budget for all of our activities. We have a massive army of volunteers and incredible partnerships and collaborations. This year alone, we’ll have about 1,200 volunteers come through our doors. We run such a lean budget for the amount of output we have; it’s just astonishing.
Outside of our registered volunteers, we have people like the Denver Police Department. Our partnerships really make it happen. We couldn’t do it without them. We work with over 40 venues, mostly partnership and relationship driven. People donate the spaces. The Bronco organization hosts us at Mile High Stadium for our offices in Denver. It’s really cool.
We have a number of Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialists on staff to handle any kind of adaptive challenges, especially on the therapeutic side.
We have a really great climbing team. They’re all American Mountain Guides Association certified and enormously talented athletes across the board. We hire people who are passionate about their sports. These guys will leave at the end of the workday and go climbing. It’s an obsession for them!
One of our most exciting partners is Creating Ability out of Minnesota. They make amazing adaptive equipment for us. For people who need more structure inside a kayak, they allow that to happen.
How to Volunteer
To volunteer, go to our website, and you’ll see a tab on the upper left corner that says “Volunteer”. Click that, and then fill out an application. The best part of volunteering with the NSCD is that you don’t really have to have any skills. We teach people from the ground up. So if you’re not a rock climber, our very capable staff is going to train you. You get a really great reward for your altruism. You get this incredible experience. It’s really valuable in Colorado because people move here and want to have that experience and want to learn those skills. It can get pretty expensive, so by helping us out, you get to feel good about yourself and learn how to rock climb. It’s pretty cool.
The Importance of Sports and Adventure
I think the first part of our mission is to rebuild self-confidence, and I don’t think there’s a better way than through sport, personally. There are a lot of ways to do it, but I think sports and challenging peak wilderness experiences are the number one driver. We come from nature, and I think that’s the first place we should go back to when it comes to finding ourselves and finding self-confidence. Sport and outdoor pursuit is the answer to that problem. We also work on total body fitness and really revering our bodies as something that’s positive. I think the other piece is personal challenge, and that only happens specifically in those scenarios that are outside of your normal day-to-day life. We create those spaces that allow people to go way outside and come back comfortably. They can actualize and reflect on what really just happened and how it changed them.
Be brave. Go do it. We don’t tell people that often enough.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!