Let me introduce you to Sean. This guy is making a huge impact in Northwest Arkansas and it’s only just begun. When Sean was 25, he broke his neck after diving into a wave and hitting a sandbar. This left him a quadriplegic, but it did not stop him from living his life to the fullest. He’d gone to support groups, but grew tired of what seemed like complaining, with no plans for action. He wanted community and support, but wanted to DO something. Encouraged by one of the physical therapists at the rehab institute he was at in Chicago, Sean got involved in wheelchair rugby. There, through sports, he found the community and support he was searching for. After moving here in 2018, he was ready to bring the same community, and the opportunities it provides, to Northwest Arkansas. So, in 2019 he launched Ozark Adaptive Sports Association (OZASA).
Starting a nonprofit is never an easy or quick feat. There is loads of marketing, grant applications, funding, and paperwork required before you can even begin interacting with the people that need it. Also, consider that sports equipment, especially cycling, can be very expensive for an able bodied person. The adaptive equipment is 2-3 times that cost. Sean did his research and discovered a vast number of Arkansas residents who needed adaptive equipment in order to participate in sports. Yet, until he arrived, no one had worked to bridge that gap and provide adaptive athletes a place to thrive. In just the few short years that OZASA has been started, they have brought adaptive accessibility to several sports and it continues to grow. It’s still a grassroots nonprofit, but Sean has big plans in store for it.
Currently, every Wednesday and Saturday, they have a court at the Springdale Parks and Recreation reserved for them. During that time they can be found playing basketball, pickleball, or sitting volleyball. Participants range from adaptive athletes to volunteers who are ready to learn and assist the adaptive players if needed. Part of their funding goes toward providing the adaptive equipment needed, since many do not have the financial resources of their own. On every third Saturday, they meet at Lake Fayetteville for adaptive cycling. Finally having the funding for an adaptive mountain bike, Sean is looking to expand into that arena as well. Just this year they had a weekend of mountain biking during the Northwest Arkansas Adaptive Off-Road Adventure. This included local and national adaptive riders. Sean anticipates next year’s event to double or triple the number of attendees, as they will also be joined by the Paralized Veterans of America. Local adaptive riders Brian and Darryl have played key roles in bringing this sport to OZASA. Additionally, while Sean is busy bringing the riders and funding, another adaptive rider, Jeremy Mcghee, is doing work to make more trails accessible to adaptive shredders.
It’s incredible to see the opportunities that Sean has already made possible for adaptive sports in Northwest Arkansas. His goal is to build OZASA to the likes of places like Ability 360 in Arizona or Lakeshore Foundation in Alabama, with a designated facility, staff, scholarships, transportation, support, etc. He’s got a mock-up of the building ready to go but is stuck in a Catch 22. To get the funding you have to show a need, but to bring in those in need he needs funding for the special adaptive equipment they need. So, how can you help Sean build this community of sports and support the adaptive community in Arkansas? Donations of course are always appreciated, but volunteers are also needed at events and activities.
The next time you’re on the trails seeing things change like widening a spot, remember that this trail modification is making it possible for riders like Brian and Darryl to shred it out on the trails just like you. If you see Sean around town, thank him for opening up a world of opportunities for the same support and community found in sports others with spinal cord injuries, amputees, etc.