Adaptive sports program provides fitness, fellowship

Archery, kayaking, sled hockey allow veterans of all abilities to participate

A man stands in profile with a bow and arrow -- one hand on the bow and his mouth on the arrow. Sanford Health offers adaptive sports like archery to veterans and others in the community with physical disabilities.

Sanford Health’s partnership with the Sioux Falls VA Health Care System in operating an adaptive sports program gives people the opportunity to participate in activities that wouldn’t be available otherwise.

That makes it a good match for Warren Heyer, a 95-year-old Navy veteran of World War II who never saw a new challenge he didn’t like.

He qualifies as one of the enthusiastic regulars for this program partnership in Sioux Falls. He’s not fussy about the activity and he shows up ready to go.

“If I wasn’t doing this, what would I do, sit in a chair back home and look at the walls?” Heyer asked a visitor a few minutes before it was his turn to shoot arrows at a target at Minnehaha Archers, Inc. “Whenever they have something new, I like to try it out. Like archery. I’d never done it before. And kayaking. I never did that before either.”

Adaptive sports horizons

Heyer was a farmer until the age of 33. He went back to college, then moved on to a series of careers that included working for a power company, becoming a real estate agent and selling road repair equipment. When his wife died in 2012 after 66 years of marriage, he needed something to occupy his time.

That led to expanding his horizons in adaptive sports. In addition to archery and kayaking, he’s been skiing in South Dakota and Colorado.  He also came back with multiple medals after competing in the National Veterans Golden Age Games in Alaska. He also shows up for cycling, golfing, bocce ball, bowling, shuffleboard, horseshoes and disc golf.

Related: Adaptive swimming and fitness at Sanford Wellness Center

The program also offers fly tying/fishing, lacrosse, downhill skiing, kayaking, sled hockey and air rifle shooting.

“I can’t think of anything I want to do that I haven’t done yet,” he said. “But if somebody comes up with something, I’ll go for it.”

Heyer was part of a group directed by Lisa Klein, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist with Sanford’s Inpatient Rehabilitation. She played a significant role in creating the program, and she continues to find new things to do for Heyer and his cohorts.

“Our purpose is to provide opportunities to increase physical activities to improve self-esteem, confidence and independence,” Klein said. “Our purpose is to provide some fun and healthy recreation.”

Smiles and peer support

The calendar of activities begins in January with bocce ball and downhill skiing in February and goes from there. Cycling is scheduled in the spring, kayaking in the summer and archery in the fall.

“I see smiles and peer support,” Klein said. “Not only are they talking about the activity they’re doing, whether that is kayaking or cycling or archery. They’re talking about day-to-day activities and the struggles they have.”

Troy Osterloo heard about the adaptive sports program from Klein, who encouraged him to participate. It was initially a tough sell, but he has since become another regular.

“I wasn’t interested because I don’t like being around people,” Osterloo said, though one would never get that impression by hanging around him for a few minutes. “But the program has allowed me to venture out and try new things and meet new people. That’s what I like about it.”

His favorite activity? Cycling. Via grants from Sanford, the program has several bicycles for those who can’t use a standard model.

It includes hand bicycles, recumbent bicycles, and other models that address issues with balance and vision.

“I get to use my legs, which I don’t get to use too much because I sit in a wheelchair,” Osterloo said. “Plus I like being with the volunteers who help me — I get to know them.”

Adaptive sports circle

Paul Bulman is a retired policeman who was a helicopter crew chief for nine years in the Marines. He was working in law enforcement in Cheyenne, Wyoming, his hometown, when a pinched vertebral artery sent him into retirement. Bulman has taken up recumbent biking — it’s the only way he can ride bike alongside his grandchildren, he says — and is taking on the new activities one-by-one as they’re introduced. He has only been in town about a year.

“It’s nice to have Sanford be part of this because I do things with them for some of my various injuries,” he said. “Between the VA and Sanford it’s this great little circle of people where everybody can talk. You meet people here and you can talk about your procedures and those kinds of things. It’s just great being able to talk to other vets.”

The camaraderie was obvious on a recent archery trip. With volunteers helping out, newcomers received instruction and assistance as needed. Bull’s-eyes were celebrated.

Sanford steps up

“Thankfully Sanford was willing to step up and do the paperwork to get our initial adaptive sports grants,” said Anna Perry, visual impairment services team coordinator at the VA. “We were able to use a lot of the money received through that grant to help purchase quite a bit of the equipment we needed to get things off the ground. … We would not have this program without Sanford Health. They’re our oldest partner and our most important partner.”

Physical activity combines with a sense of community to sustain the program, Perry said. Above all, the common experience pulls people together.

“The thing that I hear most from participants about what they benefit from is the camaraderie and the physical challenge,” Perry said. “The part of the camaraderie that is most helpful is that everyone here is doing some kind of physical or mental health challenge. Everybody gets it that we’re all dealing with something like that. We’re all trying to overcome that and challenge ourselves and focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t do.”

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Posted In Rehabilitation & Therapy, Veterans

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