By LISA CAPOBIANCO
For Paul Weiland, discovering wheelchair basketball was a passion he happened to find at the right place at the right time.
A football athlete in high school, Weiland initially attended Southwest Minnesota State University with the intention of continuing his love of the sport there. But when he learned about wheelchair basketball, Weiland decided to take on the new challenge.
“I realized just how competitive the sport is and just how passionate the players are,” said Weiland, adding that wheelchair basketball is one of the most well-known recognized sports nationwide for people with disabilities.
Although he can still walk on his own, Weiland, who was born three months prematurely, has cerebral palsy, and has undergone around 20 reconstructive surgeries. He has been playing wheelchair basketball since 2000, becoming a captain of his team for three years and achieving success competitively. Not only has Weiland won various awards, including the Frank M. Brasile Sportsman of the Year, but he has also served as a committee member of the 2008 USA Paralympics Under 23 Wheelchair Basketball Selection Committee.
Besides being able to pursue a number of opportunities through his participation in the sport, Weiland said wheelchair basketball also opened his eyes to the challenges of other teammates with more serious physical disabilities.
“It has given me the opportunity to travel all over the U.S.,” said Weiland, noting how the left side of his body is weaker than his right side. “It motivates me to be a better person.”
A certified physical education teacher, Weiland has shared his passion with youth groups serving as a coach.
Today, Weiland has continued to share his passion and knowledge with youth at Chapter 126 Sports & Fitness in Bristol. This month, Chapter 126 kicked off several sports programs, including wheelchair basketball and football clinics, which Weiland will help lead in his role as a coach. Both 10-week programs that run until the second week of February, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair football are open to children ages eight to 18 regardless of their disability or experience. It is not required for a child to have a disability in order to participate in these programs.
Looking back on when he first started playing the sport, Weiland said the biggest challenge is learning how to play basketball in a wheelchair itself, since it involves more eye-hand coordination and upper body strength.
“The biggest hurdle was learning the mechanics,” said Weiland, adding how he spent a month practicing his navigation in a wheelchair before he became better using it. “Someone who uses a chair in their day to day life…understands the mechanics.”
In addition, the recreational volleyball program also kicked off, and is open to middle school and high school players, as well as adults of all abilities or experience.
Adapted Sports Program Manager Stacia Cardillo who runs the programs, said she hopes all children who participate will enjoy the experience of being able to play competitively recreationally regardless of their physical or intellectual disability.
“It’s a whole different feel,” said Cardillo, adding that five children have expressed interest in playing wheelchair basketball. “Just because you have a disability, doesn’t mean you can’t play a sport.”
Located at 47 Upson Street, Chapter 126 Sports & Fitness is a state-of-the-art facility that aims to improve the health and wellness of youth, adults, veterans and seniors with physical disabilities, as well as their caregivers and families, according to the center’s website.
The first facility of its kind in New England, Chapter 126 offers specialized fitness and exercise equipment, sports programs, group exercise classes and a gym for adaptive sports. Certified trainers and strength and conditioning experts are available to help members in meeting their health and fitness goals. The facility was named after U.S. Code, Title 42, Chapter 126, which gives equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Cardillo said the more children without disabilities have more experience working with other children with a disability, the more understanding they will gain.
“It’s bringing awareness to them,” said Cardillo. “Our facility is inclusive—we want to have everyone playing together. We want people to understand and learn that this is the same sport, just with different equipment.”
Cardillo said Chapter 126 also welcomes anyone interested in serving as a volunteer coach for the programs.
For more information, visit http://www.chapter126.com/.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@Bristol Observer.com.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO