200 disabled athletes participate in Sports Access Day
By Nick Sortal
Sun-Sentinel

September 22, 2002

SUNRISE -- The desire for recreation is the same, wheelchair or no wheelchair. Boating, horseback riding, water skiing, tennis...or just quietly fishing or shooting some hoops.

Getting out and playing with friends or relatives provides a relief from the daily grind and a chance to socialize.

So Saturday about 200 people with disabilities played to their hearts' content at Markham Park, at the third annual Sports Access Day.

They're eager to stay in the game. Any game.

"I'm living the American dream, looking at what I can do, rather than what I can't do," said Craig Lilienthal of Coconut Creek, paralyzed 12 years ago in a car accident. He and his wife of one year, Nicole, fished from a wheelchair-accessible dock. He is unable to leave his wheelchair.

A surfer before his car accident, Lilienthal wants the public to know that there is a large population of people with special needs who are looking to stay active.

The problem is finding something to do.

"Part of it is just about letting people know that not only do people with disabilities want to be active, but they can be active," Lilienthal said. "Knowing that there are things to do helps both the person and his family feel less trapped."

The day's organizers welcomed the physically disabled, the mentally disabled and the able-bodied, too.

"We view it more as an integrated event, rather than a segregated event," said one of the organizers, David Rafter of HealthSouth's Rehabilitation Hospital in Sunrise. "We want to give the entire family something to do, have them not think that weekends have to be spent in front of a television or at a local shopping mall."

Most participants Saturday had suffered spinal cord injuries, and are among the 10,000 in Florida. Another 500 each year suffer a debilitating spinal-cord injury, according to Brian Sterner of Tampa, who broke his neck eight years ago after "getting drunk and wrestling a friend" at a party.

He travels the state on behalf of the Florida Spinal CordInjury Resource Center.

"A lot of people want to write recreation off as a waste of time and money, but really it's therapy in every since of the word," he said. "There's socialization, physical activity and psychological benefits, the whole works, all in one."

Mostly Broward and Miami-Dade residents participated Saturday and clinics were provided for some activities to increase familiarity. Wheelchair tennis, water skiing, basketball, horseback riding, canoeing, fishing and archery were offered.

Nick Sortal can be reached at nsortal@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7906.
Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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