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Jul 26, 2017 01:23PM

QCA Adaptive Sports: 'It's about friendship and learning how other people have adapted.'

By Chris Cashion
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Stephanie Makosky
Bob Juarez speeds toward the finish line during the annual Genesis Firecracker Run in downtown East Moline Monday, July 4, 2011.
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Juli Varble returns the ball as she plays in the Quad Cities Adult Wheelchair Tennis Tournament in Moline on Saturday, August 23, 2014. The Quad City Area Adaptive Sports Association host the second annual tournament at the Quad City Tennis Club.
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When Abel Vazquez was paralyzed in a construction accident in 2008, he faced a long journey of rehabilitation.

Learning how to navigate life was full of physical, mental and emotional challenges. As the Davenport man felt his way through the process, he found it was therapeutic playing basketball with folks who found themselves in similar situations.

Although he says he wasn't particularly athletic before the accident, he found that sports helped him get a better understanding of what his body was capable of, and improved his endurance and strength.

It also helped him get through a very challenging time in his life.

Vazquez is now a board director, basketball manager and tennis coach for the QCA Adaptive Sports Association, which was formed in 2011 by a group of individuals who had been playing wheelchair basketball together. One of the founding members, Bob Juarez, of Davenport, serves as the group's president.

As a Davenport fire captain, Juarez was paralyzed battling a fire in 2008 when he fell from a ladder. Juarez also was a naval reservist, and he had always been active in the years leading up to the accident. When he looked for ways to remain so after months of recovery, he found recreational basketball. That group wanted to branch out and play other sports, so the QCA Adaptive Sports Association was born.

The organization now offers a variety of adaptive sports, including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, adaptive rowing, adaptive archery/pellet shooting, wheelchair racing (such as 5Ks and half marathons), weightlifting, hand cycling and wheelchair softball.

Vazquez says the organization is made up of volunteers who help improve the quality of life for children and adults through the promotion of adaptive sports.

QCAASA uses wheelchairs for the various sports, and it assists Quad-Cities area facilities, such as the YMCA, to incorporate accessible equipment. For many sports, the group will provide a sports wheelchair for the participant to use until he or she is able to get one of their own. Juarez adds that the group often is able to help find grants to aid in the purchase of a sports wheelchair.

Juarez says he has enjoyed seeing the organization grow through the years, and the biggest
change QCAASA has seen since its inception has been the inclusion of so many types of
sports. As a retired firefighter, Juarez says being able to work with the group and expand its services has been a great way for him to continue to help people.

He says the addition of the adaptive rowing program has become one of his favorite evolutions of the QCAASA.

"I was approached by an occupational therapist involved with rowing. She had asked me if we wanted to start an adaptive rowing program through the Moline Two Rivers YMCA. She created a business proposal for them, and it took off from there," Juarez says. "We are in our fifth year, and it has grown into a great group of many volunteers and a handful of adaptive rowers. We have traveled to the East Coast Philadelphia to participate in adaptive rowing regattas."

Vazquez says a number of things make the group special, but having an outlet to bond with others in similar situations definitely is a highlight.

As Juarez says, it's not just about sports.

"You may think you're joining just to play a sport or be active, but it's so much more. It's about friendship and learning how other people have adapted. You find out what resources are out there, and you bond with people. I was lucky enough to have that, being with the fire department, but not everyone has that in their life. This is a way to connect with other people in a really special way," he says.

"It's the camaraderie, love and support that we give each other, plus being around people that have similar abilities that you can understand, talk to and problem solve," Vazquez says.

Juarez agrees.

"When people are injured with a physical disability, a lot of times they go into seclusion. This gives them an opportunity to stay active and meet other people," Juarez says.

Vazquez says it's that sense of accomplishment and belonging that often help members keep a positive attitude.

"It's a mental thing. You're with people with similar issues. You find yourself smiling more, you're happier, and you find out what you can do. I have parents tell me they've never seen their kids with such good outlooks before," Vazquez says.

Juarez says that adding physical activity into one's lifestyle also is helpful for the mind and the body because it builds confidence while helping maintain fitness. And "most of these sports are great cardio," Vazquez adds.

Vazquez and Juarez encourage anyone who is interested to join the group either as a participant
or as a volunteer. There are opportunities for recreation and competition, as well as individual and team sports. The group is free to join, but there is a fee for adaptive rowing, as well as travel and tournament costs with the tennis and basketball programs.

"Give each sport a try," Vazquez says. "I know all these sports aren't for everyone, but you'll never know which sport is for you. You never know; you might surprise yourself on which sport you like and excel in."
Chris Cashion is a writer on staff with Radish. For more information, visit the QCA Adaptive Sports Association's Facebook page.

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