Bringing Adaptive Sports to SDSU

aztec sports
Aztec Ahkeel Whitehead (right) leads Aztec Adaptive Sports. Keith Jones (left) is the CEO of ABC Medical, the sponsor of the recent Adaptive Sports showcase at SDSU.

Exercise and Nutritional Sciences faculty member Dr. Antionette Domingo and members of the student organization Aztec Adaptive Sports have a dream that someday SDSU will have an adaptive sports program to rival the current program for able-bodied athletes. Somewhere that Paralympians will come to train and receive an education. At the moment, there are only a few such programs in the country and most collegiate-aged elite athletes with disabilities either train and compete or go to college, but few find a place where they can do both. There are no such programs on the West Coast, the closest is in Arizona and the remaining few are on the East Coast. Everyone involved understands that there are many, many steps between where they are now and the realization of their dream, but that doesn’t stop them from starting the journey.

Aztec Adaptive Sports is a recognized student organization, led by Ahkeel Whitehead and Ryan Lieu, and advised by Dr. Domingo. The organization has about 25 students, most of whom do not have a disability. They meet each week to work toward their goal of an adaptive sports program, as well as to engage in some fun activities around their common interest. Most, but not all, of the students are Exercise and Nutritional Sciences students. They volunteer at events at the Challenged Athletes Foundation and play an occasional game of sitting volley- ball or basketball.

Whitehead grew up in Chula Vista and competed in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in ambulatory track and field, where he placed 12th in the long jump. His interest and involvement in the SDSU organization has led them to tar- get ambulatory track and field as one the first area of interest for SDSU recruiting efforts. Since ambulatory track and field athletes can compete against both disabled and able-bodied competitors, this makes it easier to fit into an existing program. If SDSU were to be successful in starting this program, it would be the first in the country.

Interim dean Larry Verity is very excited about the program’s potential. “Usually when we talk about diversity, we’re not talking about the able versus the disabled,” Verity said. “It would bring a very different lens to what we do in terms of outreach to all.”

adaptive tennisTo get the college community, as well as all of San Diego, excited about this prospect, the club members hosted a major exhibition event last January. The first Adaptive Sports Showcase included a screening of the film Rebound, about a basketball player making a comeback into the sitting basketball arena. Dave Kylie, on whom the film is based, was the guest speaker at the event. He has been described as the “LeBron James of sitting basketball.” SDSU alumnus Steve Baldwin participated in the demonstration match of wheelchair tennis, the sport that he competed in during the Rio Paralympics. The All-Star Women’s sitting basketball team played an exciting exhibition game to round out the day.

The event was sponsored by ABC Medical and its CEO, Keith Jones. They have also contributed funds for wheelchairs for the club to participate in sitting basket- ball games. A Student Success Fee grant also helped fund the event.