As we draw closer to the June 1st deadline for submitting applications for the second round of 2012 Innovation grants, we'd like to celebrate another wonderful success story.
Much like Owen Wilson’s and Vince Vaughn’s characters in Wedding Crashers, we had a simple plan. Crash the party. Bring gifts. Try to fit in. And much like the central theme of the film, we discovered that under the surface of it all, things run much deeper.
It was a spectacular day for the University Participant (UP) end of the year cookout and celebration. Funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant, Western Carolina University’s UP program facilitates the transition from secondary school to adult life for young people with intellectual and development disabilities by providing them with a two-year, on-campus living and learning experience. Why did we crash their party? Our goal was to teach folks some basic skills, rules, and etiquette and to provide participants with discs and equipment so they can enjoy disc golf for a lifetime. We were not prepared for the excitement and sheer joy we would both elicit and experience.
Before Dr. Chris “CTP” Tuten, #7248, could finish demonstrating his inspiring putting skills, the eight UP students and fifty or so program volunteers began grabbing discs and tossing them into the air with jubilation. After a little practice, many of the UP students were banging putts from 20 feet. Each time we heard rattling chains, the celebration that followed was as if the putt was for a major tournament win. Bear hugs and beaming smiles abounded. One of the parents in attendance commented “I’ve seen those [targets] in the park and wondered what they were for…this is really fun!” We then paired UP students up with parents and volunteers to play a few of the holes at the park. Our objective was to show folks that disc golf can be both fun and good exercise.
Research indicates that obesity rates for people with disabilities in the U.S. are about 36 percent. That is about 13 percent higher than those without disabilities. We know through our own research when a person plays 18 holes of disc golf, they walk nearly 6,000 steps or roughly three miles. We thought if we could turn the participants on to the great sport of disc golf, they stood a better chance of leading a healthy, active lifestyle. After a few sunny holes, our bellies began rumbling and the sweet smell of grilled Vidalia onions called us back to the pavilion.
This day was a real grass-roots effort to bring disc golf to a unique and worthy population - people with severe disabilities. What started as an excuse to crash a party turned into something much more - a unique opportunity to help the people that need it most through the great sport of disc golf. As the day came to an end, many folks asked us, “Will you guys come back?” We replied without hesitation and simultaneously: “You bet we will.”
Written By: Justin Menickelli, Ph.D., #31347