Tag Archives: Arizona

Therapeutic Riding Program Gets Cowboy Back In The Saddle

Brad was born in the one-stoplight town of Milington, Michigan.  As a young man, he moved with his family to the Southwest where cattle was big business and where he learned to rope and ride.  He was a cowboy; a rough riding rodeo type who “was always up to something.”  On the Papago Reservation in Arizona, he worked the ranches with his father, training horses and rounding up cattle for the Pacific Livestock Auction.  He was a wrestler in high school and a boxer in the Army.  Slowing down was not in his vocabulary so when he moved back to Michigan, he got a job in construction and continued to ride as a hobby.

On Veteran’s Day three years ago, Brad was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest, down.  Unable to walk and with limited use of his hands, he left his job as project manager in a heating and cooling company and went looking for a place to live that was wheelchair accessible.  He moved to Evergreen Grove in Otter Lake. There he could live independently in a setting that was far from a nursing home, yet get the help he needed.

Brad wanted more than independence, though; he wanted his life back.  He did not want those important parts of his identity to be lost. He missed the outdoors, he missed boxing, and most importantly, he missed horses.  An online search revealed a number of programs out there for individuals with physical challenges.  O.A.T.S., Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles, was a therapeutic horseback-riding program based in Clarkston, not too far away.  He signed up and within weeks his feet were back in the stirrups.

Brad on a horse

In 3 sessions, he was walking a horse in a round pen with volunteers and specialists.  “It took a couple tries for me to find my balance,” says Brad.  “I used a standard western saddle with no back and just a saddle horn so I had to learn different ways to keep upright.”  He found that Velcro straps around his wrists help him pull himself back into position, when the gait of the horse shifted him to the side.  This allowed him to ride 15-20 yards at a time with no assistance.

On the fifth session, his caregiver, Patty Gring of AdvisaCare got to come along. “I was beyond excited I cried. It was so amazing for me to see one of our clients up on a horse after all he has been through and see him work towards his dream. Just brings me so much joy.”

His success in the program opened up other doors for Brad.  Just recently, he acquired a heavy bag and has begun his journey back into boxing.  “Any plans for a career from here?” I asked.  “Yeah, but not in construction.” He plans to train his own horse and to open an adapted gym so that others with disabilities can learn to box.  “It’s great core exercise,” he says. “At first, I couldn’t hit a flea but not I have a pretty good swing!”

Brad is also in the process of writing a book about his life. With a pilot and fire bomber for a father and a childhood working with the Papago Indians in Arizona, as well as his adventures in the Army, his life has taken many interesting paths.  For Brad, each new element becomes just another chapter. He is a proud father and a driven cowboy, hanging his hat on great hopes for the future.

To learn more about O.A.T.S. or any of the other programs mentioned in this article, please visit the links below.


Tony Jackson on Power Soccer

Copyright © 2012 Loren Worthington. Used with permission.

Tony Jackson is unmistakable in a crowd. His crazy hair and heavy metal style means that he carves his own path through the world but Tony isn’t your typical headbanger- he rocks out on wheels wherever he goes. Tony has condition called arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder in which multiple joints are bent, twisted or fused causing limited movement. He gets around with the help of a power wheelchair but despite physical limitations, there isn’t much Tony hasn’t accomplished. Like Maegan Clark and Robert Coombs, he’s figured out how to get where he wants to go in life: earning 2 college degrees, living independently and most recently becoming employed at a brand new sports and fitness facility for people with disabilities. see also SpoFit.

“Sports are something that have always been a part of my life,” he explains. He’s been a fan of soccer since he was a kid but there were not a lot of opportunities for children with disabilities to play. “I mean, my friends always tried to find some way to get me involved. Letting me be referee or coach from the sidelines but,” Tony admits, “it just wasn’t the same. There was always something missing.”

Until Power Soccer came along…

Tony with teammates, Katie and Jordan.
Copyright © 2012 Loren Worthington. Used with permission.

Power soccer is a take off the classic game. Using a giant soccer ball (that is incredibly durable!) and markers on either end of an indoor basketball court, players bump, kick, and block their way to scoring goals. Developed in France in the 70s as a European sport for power wheelchair users, it came to the United States and the rest of the world in the 80s and in the 90s continued to grow in popularity. The coolest part about power soccer is it’s ability to level the playing field and allow athletes to use their brains more than their brawn.

The first time I saw Power Soccer in full competitive action was at the third annual PowerBlast Tournament in Phoenix, Arizona.

Copyright © 2012 Loren Worthington. Used with permission.

There, I saw players spin-kicking balls and knocking in goals kicked off opponent’s chairs. The chairs go surprisingly fast, topping out at 10kmh or 6.2 mph, which is a special league-regulated setting all chairs conform to. For reference, this is faster than jogging speed! -insert Mazda’s “Zoom, zoom, zoom” here- Players must perform a speed test at the beginning of each tournament to ensure that no one is tweaking their settings for an advantage. “One thing I didn’t expect was how fast the chairs would go. I have a mode on my chair that is specifically for power soccer. It makes my chair go really fast, turn fast, and stop and accelerate quickly.”

How do you keep yourselves in your chairs? How do you keep your balance if you don’t have trunk control?” Being a quadriplegic, myself, I can see myself toppling over at the first turn. “If you aren’t careful, you can knock yourself over and if you aren’t wearing your seatbelt, you can get thrown out,” Tony warned. “It was really scary at first because all of the settings are turned way high and if you’re not expecting it, it can surprise you. When I first started playing… I forgot to put on my seatbelt and nearly was thrown out!”

Controlling these chairs is no easy matter either. With the rest of the modes (stop, accelerate, and turn) set “higher than they should be”, these 150lb powerhouses have to be able to slide and spin on the slick court without momentum tipping over. Crazy cool that you can slide on the court but I was a little concerned… “Has anyone ever tipped over?” “Ohh, yeah! It happened two or three times in the last game (I was in)!” Apparently, fear is not a factor here and among other reasons, this is why power soccer is played on an indoor basketball court. Asphalt = ouch!

Copyright © 2012 Loren Worthington. Used with permission.

What is it about the game that you like, I asked Tony. “The competition.” I could have guessed that! “It’s fun getting in the chair and hitting the ball around and crashing in to people and that was not what drew me. Playing on a team, going head to head in a competition and getting caught up in the moment was the best thing.”

The games were held at the brand new Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center in Phoenix, Arizona. This state-of-the-art facility makes staying healthy and competitive possible by providing three accessible pools, a fully adapted gym, jogging track, rock climbing wall, and indoor temperature controlled basketball court. With funding provided from bonds, grants, and donations, the $5 million facility opened this year in February. For more information and directions, visit the SpoFit’s website! Also, for more information about the United States Power Soccer Association, visit their website!