EXCHANGE: Therapy revives amputee's fire for sports
NORMAL, Ill. -- Ashley Green of Mackinaw, by her own description, was "a very active child," involved in competitive gymnastics, volleyball, surfing, snowboarding, softball and track, until complications from surgeries on her ankle resulted in amputation of her leg below the knee.
"Once I found adaptive sports, it brought back the fire into me," said Green, 28, a graduate of Peoria Notre Dame High School.
Now she is helping others with a nonprofit organization and motivational speaking and has her eyes on the Paralympics. She also is studying physical therapy at Bradley University.
Green plays sitting volleyball on the A2 Paralympic training team.
She was at Illinois State University last week, talking to students in recreation management and therapeutic recreation and also taking part in "Adaptapalooza" at the Student Fitness Center - a student-organized event exposing others to sports adapted so they can be played by people with disabilities.
She said a common misconception is that people with disabilities can't have an active lifestyle like everyone else.
"You define your life," she said. "You can still live a happy active lifestyle. ... The mind is a powerful thing."
That was part of the purpose of Adaptapalooza: making people aware of adaptations to make sports accessible, explained Sherri Hildebrand, an ISU faculty member who teaches therapeutic recreation courses.
Students tried out wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, goalball and adaptive rock climbing.
Senior Zach Chapman of Libertyville, who is studying to be a physical education teacher, was among the students who participated. He wore a blindfold to get a better understanding of what it would be like to climb without being able to see.
"You can never take something like sight for granted," said Chapman. "At the same time, as hard as it is, I think it shows you can never make assumptions" about what people can do.
Several students noted that the adaptive sports were more physically demanding than they expected.
Susan Childers, a sophomore in therapeutic recreation from Chicago, said it was challenging to maneuver, get the ball and shoot from a seated position in wheelchair basketball.
"You need to have upper body strength," she said.
Hildebrand said she would like to see more recreation opportunities on campus for people with disabilities. The University of Illinois has a long history with adaptive sports.
"Adaptive sports are being developed all the time," she said, however, "one of the hardest things about adaptive sports is the expense of the equipment."
The adaptive sports wheelchairs ISU has, designed for stability and maneuverability, cost $1,800 apiece, she said. Sports-specific wheelchairs, especially those made of high-tech, lightweight materials, such as carbon fiber, cost even more.
That's among the reasons why Green started a nonprofit organization, "Your Excuse is Invalid."
Her insurance company would only give her a very basic prosthetic, saying one that would let her be more active was "a quality of life issue, not a necessity of life issue."
Her organization seeks to connect people with the adaptive equipment they need.
Green uses humor to deal with her situation and the responses of those around her.
"Things are going to happen. You've got to laugh about it," she told students in Hildebrand's recreation management class.
She has a shirt with a gingerbread cookie with a leg snapped off - the same leg that was amputated on her. Another shirt says, "Officially on my last leg."
Green said people see the shirt and "laugh at me instead of pitying me."
She said of her situation, "It's been a journey. On the other hand, it's given me opportunities I never would have had."
The day after her visit to ISU, Green was scheduled for surgery for a tumor on her spine. It caused her to miss a trip with the A2 Paralympic sitting volleyball team to play in China, but rather than get her down, her mother, Gayelynn Green, said, "It's driven her even more."
Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/2XEpkyI
Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com