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Sean Kent broke his neck in 2011. He dove into a cresting wave on a trip to an Oregon beach, not realizing there was a sandbar hidden behind it. When he hit the sandbar, he shattered his C6 vertebrae in the base of his neck and bruised his spinal cord. Kent’s friends pulled him from the water when they realized he had become unresponsive. The accident left Kent a semi-quadriplegic. He still has some function, but his limbs don’t work well. In his road to recovery, Kent discovered the best motivator was playing adaptive sports. These are competitive or recreational sports modified in various ways to allow people with disabilities to play.
Adaptive sports really came into existence after World War II, when many veterans with disabilities returned home. These young people were looking for a way to stay active and, more importantly, find fun ways to socialize through sports. In 1948, the Olympics held a wheelchair archery competition with 16 disabled veterans participating. Adaptive sports have continued to grow. Throughout the United States, sports like basketball, rugby, skiing, kayaking, biking, hockey and many more have all been adapted to offer its participants the joys and benefits of physical competition. Obviously, adaptive sports competitors increase their physical strength and fitness, but these sports also offer mental, emotional and social benefits.
An injury that leads to a disability can be isolating. And those that grow up with disabilities also face isolation and social stigma. Finding ways to engage with other people, especially those facing the same challenges, can be difficult. Adaptive sports enhance mood and decrease anxiety and depression. It connects and builds friendships. In addition, adaptive sports bring lots of secondary benefits to people with disabilities. They build self-confidence, encourage independence, and enhance everyday living skills. Overall, they lead to a greater quality of life.
When Kent moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2018, he planned to continue his participation in adaptive sports. He knew his opportunities were limited, though. The closest teams were over an hour away in Fort Smith, or farther afield in Little Rock or even Kansas City. That’s when the idea hit Kent to form his own organization. However, it wasn’t until he met a local school principal that the idea kicked into high gear. The principal shared that his students with disabilities had no opportunities to play sports in the area. They went to school, and they returned home. The reality of these students hit Kent hard.
“My hours of driving for practice is worth it to me, but the bigger picture is for individuals with disabilities to get access to sports in Northwest Arkansas. This is when the Ozark Adaptive Sports Association took shape – to create not just a team, but a full program with the goal to offer as many sports and recreation opportunities as we can to an underserved community.”
Kent officially formed his nonprofit organization, Ozark Adaptive Sports Association (OZASA), in December of 2019. Before he could get any plans underway, the pandemic hit and delayed the programs. OZASA took part in Northwest Arkansas Gives in early April this year. They raised enough money to buy a trailer to haul wheelchairs and other equipment back and forth. On April 28, 2021, OZASA officially kicked off with co-ed pick-up games of wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. These games are played at the Springdale Recreation Center on Wednesday nights from 7 to 9 p.m.
With the new trailer, Kent can haul wheelchairs to the center and is prepared for those who need one to play. However, he asserts there’s “no pressure to play, but we have the equipment ready to go, anyone interested can come by and learn more about the organization and even get involved and play that night.” With a weekly event on the calendar, those who want to participate now have a regular place and time to play sports.
Sean Kent formed OZASA to reach people with disabilities, but those without disabilities are also welcome to join in. “We are always looking for volunteers to help with the program,” Kent says. “Or if they want to come try out a new sport they are always welcome. We are also always looking to get the word out to the disabled community on the program and offerings. We never know who needs to hear this is available and waiting for them.”
Right now, getting the word out is important. Kent knows there are people with disabilities who need the physical activity, the emotional boost and the friendship and connections that adaptive sports bring. He encourages anyone in Northwest Arkansas to reach out, especially if they know someone who would love to play.
In the future, Kent hopes to add more sports besides basketball and rugby. He has his sights on tennis, softball and hand-cycling and hopes to create competitive and recreational teams. Those teams would compete regionally and nationally. As the organization grows, he also wants to build a facility focused on providing space for people with disabilities.
This adaptive space will become a community hub where we can have daily activities and practices, as well as host clinics and tournaments for our teams and other teams.”
For now, the organization is just getting off the ground. But with a trailer, wheelchairs and a location, he has all he needs to share the sports that gave him hope and changed his life. Kent now hopes to provide that same opportunity to those with disabilities across Northwest Arkansas.
For more information about Ozark Adaptive Sports, visit the website or follow the organization on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or stop by on a Wednesday evening at the Springdale Recreation Center and join in the fun.
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