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Nonprofit helping athletes with physical disabilities train for Paralympics

Posted: 11:17 AM, Sep 30, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-30 11:17:58-04
Nonprofit helping athletes with physical disabilities train for Paralympics

Adaptive Action Sports is a nonprofit changing the lives of athletes with disabilities.

Executive Director and Co-Founder Daniel Gale says they create action sport events, camps and clinics for people living with permanent physical disabilities.

“We do everything from mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding, skateboarding, snowboarding,” Gale said.

Snowboarding has become the favorite sport.

“What I love most about snowboarding is making the mountain your own, embracing it as its own element and adapting your body to what the mountain has,” athlete Kiana Clay said.

Right now, many of them are training to snowboard in the next Paralympic Games. Zach Miller is a 20-year-old para snowboarder who’s been with Adaptive Action Sports for six years. At the age of six months, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Ever since, his life has been filled with hospital visits and physical therapy.

“The area that’s affected is the cerebrum – that’s the part of the brain that controls your muscular system. It controls how much you grow, how fast you grow, your fine motor skills, I mean everything movement is in that center of the brain,” Miller said.

Miller says he was often behind the curve.

“Growing up was painful for me first off because my skeletal system would grow normally, but my muscular system was always catching up.”

It wasn’t ideal for his competitive dreams of becoming a professional athlete, but instead of quitting, he says he chose to adapt.

“When you have a physical disability, you have to find ways to work around it. And usually the best person to figure out what to do, is yourself,” Miller said.

Miller is currently on the U.S. Para Snowboard Men’s Team and hopes to compete in the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.

“If I continue my training, if I continue putting in the work, I think I have a really good shot at the podium.”

It takes a lot of commitment. Gale says sports training is like a full-time job.

“If you’re actually doing a dedicated snowboard training day, it looks a lot different than just free-riding,” Gale said.

When you don’t have a snowy mountain to glide down, your next best bet is skateboarding.

“It’s a similar balance to snowboarding, your field of vision is the same, your body mechanics are the same, athletic stance and looking where you want to go. The movement, the flex and extension – the up and down movement of the body – is really similar,” Gale said.

Even those with severe physical disabilities are able to try skateboarding with a mechanism Daniel created called the “Stick It.” It helps with pushing, balancing and steering.

Before the nonprofit came together in 2005, Gale says there was nothing like it for those wanting to compete in extreme sports.

Not only are the athletes taking home medals, but they’ve also found community and a way to show the world that they can do incredible things.

“Even though I might have my own physical limitations or my own unique set of challenges, I can get out there on a board, and I can slay it like I’ve always wanted to,” Miller said.

“My goal with all of the athletes is to really, genuinely improve quality of life. If we can do that through putting them on the U.S. team, that’s awesome,” Gale said.

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You can follow Zach Miller on Instagram @themountainmiller

If you’d like to contact the journalist for this story, email elizabeth.ruiz@scripps.com