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Zebreda Dunham Powers Through Challenges on the Pitch and in Life


Editor’s Note:  Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, Zebreda Dunham grew up in Maryland under the care of her parents. At the age of 24, she decided it was time to venture out on her own and start living the life she had always imagined for herself. Wheel:Life writer Betsy Bailey chatted with Dunham at Abilities Expo Los Angeles on how she gained her independence, created her own DIY website, and got into power soccer.

zebreda4My parents were too overprotective; they wouldn’t even let me go around the block by myself. As a young adult, I decided I had to find a way to get them to let me leave. When I told them I wanted to move out, they said they could find me a house down the street and get me a live-in caregiver. That wasn’t what I had in mind. I wanted to move somewhere where the weather stayed warm all year-round — either Florida, Arizona, or California.

After doing some research, I chose California. So, my mom and I went out there. We had planned to stay for two weeks, but that turned into over a year because we couldn’t find a facility to take me in. We went from place to place, and they would either tell us that they only accept seniors or that their center was reserved for people with cognitive disabilities. I eventually got accepted into an assisted living facility for seniors in Pasadena.

People tell you that you can’t do something, but you can always try another angle.

I’m the youngest one in the building, but I love it there. I’ve been there for 12 years now. I am lucky because at the five-year mark, they changed ownership and the new owners tried to kick me out. I fought, and I’m still there. I just want to let people know, don’t give up!

Figuring Things Out for Myself

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I have a website where I show people all of the gadgets I’ve created to assist me in everyday living. It’s called Zebreda Makes It Work. Since I don’t have the use of my hands, one thing I came up with is a bracelet with rings on it. I can hook one of the rings onto my power chair’s joystick and steer it with my arm. I also have a potato masher in a metal pipe attached to my chair, so I can prop up my elbow to help me rub my eyes or eat finger-foods.

Editor’s Note:  Check out more of Zebreda’s ideas and inventions on her website. We especially love her pulley spoon system that allows her to eat on her own!

Discovering Power Soccer

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I found out about power soccer at Abilities Expo about five years ago. I was just rolling around and I saw a booth that said “Power Soccer.” I thought, “What’s that?” They showed me a video and told me about the demonstration they’d be doing later that afternoon. So, I went and when they asked if anyone in the audience wanted to give it a try, I went up. They told me I had some pretty good moves and that I should join the team. I went to their practice the following weekend, and I’ve been playing ever since.

We have three teams in the Los Angeles area right now. We’re the Glendale Rough Riders. There’s also the So Cal Vaqueros and the Los Angeles Avengers. We all practice together every Sunday. There are a few other teams in California as well. We’re going up to San Jose soon for a tournament.

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Power soccer brings me independence and the chance to travel, which is something else I love doing.

I play power soccer because I love being competitive and like to socialize with people.

What is Power Soccer?

zebreda10Power soccer is played on an indoor basketball court; we call it “the pitch.” We play four on four, so you have a goalie, center, and two wings. Your wheelchair is equipped with a long front bumper that acts as your paddle. You spin around really fast to hit the ball. Our coaches teach us the most effective techniques, but if you can’t do it that way, you can find methods that work for you.

Editor’s Note:  A power soccer match consists of two 20-minute periods and uses a ball roughly twice the size of a traditional soccer ball assuring it doesn’t get lodged under chairs during play. For more information on the rules and equipment used, scroll down to “THE EQUIPMENT & PITCH” section on PowerSoccerUSA.org.

Calling All Sponsors and Potential Players!

Not many of us have sponsors; that’s one thing we need. When someone discovers power soccer for the first time and gets excited, they usually then get discouraged when they find out how much work goes into it. Most of us have to fundraise to get our own chairs, and that often turns people away.

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Our coach sends letters to contact different companies, but we get a lot of negative response or no response at all. We also have to pay for our travel. In a few weeks, we’ll be going to San Jose, and then we’re going to Carpinteria. Gas, hotel, and transporting equipment is expensive. We’re also going to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in June for the end-of-the-season cup.

If you don’t want to commit to traveling, there are also ways to get involved as a recreational player. You can just come out and practice. We’re always looking for more players.

Editor’s Note:  Power soccer chair pricing starts at around $8,000. Alternatives for those on a tighter budget include plastic guards that can be attached to most wheelchairs and cost anywhere from $50 to $150.

Honda Helpers

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I was lucky to be given a chair last year by the SoCal Honda Dealers. They have a program called Helpful Honda, and a friend wrote to them to tell them how much I liked the sport and that I wasn’t able to be as competitive as I wanted with my ordinary wheelchair. A few weeks later, they contacted my coach to set up a surprise.

My coach told us all that we were having a special practice one day and there would be some people filming for a documentary. So during practice, I see a guy across the court pushing a chair and I hear someone say, “Hello, everyone. Is there a Zebreda here?” So I said, “Yeah, I’m here.” He introduced himself and said he was from Honda and they’d heard I needed a new wheelchair. Then he said, “Here it is!” I just started crying right there on camera.

Advice on Getting Active

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There are so many ways to get active. I had no idea power soccer existed before seeing it at Abilities Expo.

Don’t be afraid to explore and find something you enjoy. There is something out there for you!

Editor’s note: For more information on Zebreda’s team, the Glendale Rough Riders, check out their Facebook page. If you’re interested in playing power soccer, find a team in your area on Power Soccer USA’s website. No teams near you? Have the Power Soccer Development Group come set up a demo in your area!

About the Authorbetsy-bailey-headshot

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!

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