Local Treasures with Pia: Spokane Parasport supports disabled athletes of all levels

Spokane, Washington – There are two rules that run through every project and class Spokane Parasport organizes: use people first language and focus on the whole person.

About 150 athletes with various disabilities participate in sports through Spokane Parasport, which recently got a grant from the Avista Foundation.

“We do sport and recreation for athletes with disabilities. The youngest is two years old and the oldest is 72,” said Teresa Skinner, executive director of Spokane Parasport. “We run the gamut of all levels from recreational to the paralympic level.”

Wheelchair basketball is huge, and other program include track and field, swimming, road racing and sled hockey.

The Paralympic sport system got its name because it is parallel to the Olympic sports program.

“There is no O in paralympic,” Skinner said.

Paralympic athletes are often divided into groups based on their disability: those who use wheelchairs, those who have visual impairments and blindness, those who are amputees and those who have cerebral palsy and neurological impairment.

“We get some referrals through the school and the medical system, but it’s crazy how many people don’t know we exist,” Skinner said, adding that the 150 athletes enrolled right now is just about 1/8 of the people who actually could participate.

“About 80 percent of our athletes did not come to the first session willingly,” she added. “It takes a lot for someone who’s disabled to try a sport. They think it’s not for them or they can’t do it – or maybe they won’t like it.”

Classes and programs through Spokane Paralympics are free and the program also helps with equipment purchases, but families are encouraged to cover part of travel costs – if they can.

“We use sport as a catalyst for life and community engagement from a very young age,” Skinner said. “Some of our athletes go on to college in competitive programs and on scholarships.”

Her husband David Greig jokingly refers to himself as the first husband of parasport in Spokane. He’s the development director of the organization.

“Sometimes an athlete has an able-bodied family member who can play along,” Greig said. “Other times the disabled person comes along to watch an able-bodied sibling play a sport, they hold cameras and collect stats and all that, but they never play.”

Parasport Spokane sent five current or former athletes to compete in the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2021. Paralympic wheelchair racer Susannah Scaroni, a Bloomsday record holder, is a 2020 Paralympic gold medal winner. She’s from Tekoa and trained with Parasport Spokane.

Skinner said the 25 coaches are volunteers and there is programming six days a week.

“It’s important that people know we support anyone no matter if they want to do recreational sport or they want to be the best in the world,” Skinner said.

At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.

Visit parasportspokane.org to learn more about how disabled athletes can train and compete.

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