When a rare disease leaves Eric Katz in a wheelchair, he discovers that his dream school has several student athletes with disabilities.
Rutgers is synonymous with college for Katz, a high school trailer star who grew up near the University of New Brunswick campus in the '90s. He wanted to compete with the black and red knight.
But for Katz, like many other disabled athletes, there was a problem. Rutgers doesn't have a top-tier intercollegiate team for students like him. To find it, he must leave his home state, friends, and family to attend the University of Arizona. The school awarded him a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball in 2001.
"I grew up in East Brunswick," Katz, now 39 and based in New Jersey, said in an interview. "My whole life is what I know. When I think of college, I think of Rutgers."
Proponents of "adaptive sports" that address the needs of athletes with disabilities, such as wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis and sitting volleyball, say competition at the college level provides lifelong social and economic benefits. However, there are very few institutions in the country that offer programs at a level comparable to students without disabilities.
Rutgers and its peers have spent millions of dollars on football, basketball and other traditional programs. But even in the most popular adaptive sport, wheelchair, only 11 universities have national intercollegiate field teams, according to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Rutgers is not one of them.
The City University of New York has men's and women's wheelchair teams that play 25 to 30 games a season, said Ryan Martin, NWBA board member and CUNY's director of inclusive and adaptive sports. The team offers a level of competition and training not available in intramural and collegiate athletic programs, said Martin, a multiple amputee who uses a wheelchair.
Although 19% of college students report having a disability, such opportunities are rare, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
While fans pushed for change, it didn't happen soon enough for Katz. In 1998, at the age of 15, he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disease that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
This experience inspired him to help others in his situation. Katz, who lives in western New York, currently works for a prosthetics design company.
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After leaving college, Katz married her father, former state Sen. John O. Bennett, R-Burlington. He applied to Rutgers on behalf of his family in 2002, but the response he received in the form of a letter from then-athletic director Robert Mulcahy III further angered Eric Katz.
"I understand Mr. Katz's concern, and although Rutgers currently sponsors organized wheelchair sports, I can assure him that our recreational facilities accommodate wheelchair users," he said.
“For example, the pool at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center is fully wheelchair accessible, as are the fitness facilities at the Sonny Werblin Center and Easton Avenue Recreation Center. Therefore, students in wheelchairs have many opportunities for health experiences at Rutgers.
Pool and gym. her response was insulting, Katz said.
"I have been involved in competitive sports. "I don't want to swim, I want to compete."
Rutgers conducted the adaptive exercise and recreation study in fall 2015 after advocacy by the Katz family and state lawmakers, said Kevin Lorinch, director of university communications. In 2015-2017, students also conducted a survey.
The responses showed that "students want more accessible tailored recreation, fitness and swimming programs, which Rutgers is focused on," Lorinch said. But they "do not generate large enough participants to implement a competitive team-based adaptive sports program among our students."
Instead, through the recreation department, the school offers students adaptive water sports, scuba diving, personal fitness, weightlifting, rock climbing and kayaking, as well as wheelchair-accessible walking trails. Lorinch also hosts an annual Adaptive Sports, Health and Wellness Day that serves as a showcase where students can find more information.
"intense" on the track
But that offer doesn't compare to the pride and life lessons learned from the best in competition , said Errol Samuels, 31, who is in his second season on the CUNY wheelchair basketball team. The Queens basketball player of Jamaican origin was paralyzed in an accident at the age of 20.
He was surprised that wheelchair basketball was more difficult than the game he was used to. The first few times he tried it, it was "tiring, very tiring."
"I'm not used to pressing with this intensity," he said. “You have to be in top shape. It was something I had to do right away – get in better shape and train more."
In addition to running around the court, Samuels also shot the basket from a 10-foot-high sitting position, where he could sit and stand on the court and jump.
Like Katz, Samuels didn't want to leave his hometown to play.
"Other than this school, the closest school is in Edinboro, Pennsylvania," said the Queens College student. "If I go any further, I will lose my apartment and my job. It's close to home. I can ask someone from the family to come."
The 11 American schools that offer men's and women's wheelchair basketball programs include CUNY, Edinboro in northwestern Pennsylvania, and Rutgers' two Top Ten Athletic Conference rivals, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois. Alabama, Arizona, Texas, Nebraska and Missouri State universities are also field teams, as are Auburn University and Eastern Washington University.
According to a 2009 report by market researcher Harris Interactive, adults with disabilities who are physically active are more likely to be employed, advance in their careers, enjoy better physical and mental health, and have a higher quality of life.
How to start adaptive training?
Glenn Murry is the executive director of Move United, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the accessibility of adaptive sports. He said that the group is aimed at young players.
"There are young examples in other sports as well. “We need to encourage people to play sports in college. There should be more in high school as well. Currently, it is mostly adaptive sports clubs.
According to Maryam, two of the most cited reasons why people with disabilities do not compete at a high level are injury concerns and not knowing how to organize the sport.
Move United has created a free tutorial to answer these questions. It distributes the guides through scout groups and clubs.
"Now we're rolling it out to school districts as an example of how you can implement a pilot program," Murry said. "Our inclusive guide is a curriculum that PE teachers can use."
According to him, youth teams should teach sports to everyone. This will create demand among previously excluded and marginalized children.
"It will engage them and their families and help them become advocates as the system ages," Merry said.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com. Rutgers is trying to add adaptive exercises for students with disabilities