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Best Moments in Life
Christopher Di Virgilio

One Wyoming women captures the spirit of living life with a disability and lands this year's Get Out, Enjoy Life top spot


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Paying it Forward

Reprinted from SNS September 2017

Adaptive sports are about far more than competing and winning for 2017 SNS junior Athlete of the Year Jason Robinson

Jason Robinson is a kid of few words, but what he does say is wise far beyond his age. While Robinson’s passions include his family and friends, his biggest devotion comes in the form of sports and competition. 

From an early age, Robinson has been competitive, but a congenital spinal-cord disorder known as spinal segmental dysgenesis kept him from pursuing his athletic dreams in the conventional manner. The 14-year-old’s disability prevents him from walking unassisted, and finding sports in which he can take part is a challenge. 

“Some of the things I face within sports are if I want to get involved with a sport, I have to travel farther than a typical kid who might simply want to take swim classes at the YMCA,” says Robinson. “I can take swim classes, but if I wanted to play competitively and within the same class as me, I have to travel up to three hours’ distance at times.”

Like so many adaptive athletes, Robinson found a way around his barriers and it was his love for sports, his academic drive and his determination that led to him to being named the 2017 SPORTS ’N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year at the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Middleton, Wis., in July.

More Than Competing

The multiple award nominations Robinson received note that while he’s an active and competitive athlete, he wants to do more. That’s why Robinson also works to help others find the same fun he experiences in adaptive sports.

The Rome, N.Y., resident wants to see additional adaptive sports programs in place at the community level that would encourage more people with disabilities to give parasports a try. With the help and dedication of his family, Robinson has overcome the hurdle of a lack of opportunities closer to his home.

“As parents of a kid with a disability, it sometimes gets hard to travel to allow your child to be able to play sports,” says Jason’s father, Jamie Robinson. “My wife and I split up and just make it happen. We don’t want to hold him or any of our kids back in achieving their dreams. Jason has started to travel with other wheelchair athletes and also is starting to make some of these journeys on his own. This is also hard to do, but we allow it so he can live his dreams.”

Pursuing his dreams has given the younger Robinson a schedule that looks like a seasoned athlete or busy CEO. This year alone, he has been quite active with a number of road races and track meets, as well as serving as vice president of his family’s nonprofit, the J-Rob Foundation
(jrobfoundation.com), which helps provide adaptive sporting equipment to children with physical disabilities. 


“We have handed out more than 20 grants,” says Jason Robinson. “Initially we had thought to award one or two per year, but since starting the foundation, it’s grown a lot. The community has been very supportive throughout the whole thing, and we’ve been able to help 26 kids with disabilities.”

That first grant was memorable for Robinson because it was a handcycle for a girl he knew who only wanted to be able to ride bikes with her friends. 

“The smile on her face when she rode her bike for the first time was amazing,” says Robinson.

Starting Them Young

Robinson’s enthusiasm to help others has helped turn him into quite the public speaker, too. He makes it a habit to visit local schools to speak to other kids about adaptive sports. 

“I recently spoke to a class of third-graders about adaptive sports,” says Robinson. “I think it’s important to start them young and teach them what adaptive sports are so if they see a disabled athlete doing wheelchair racing or playing wheelchair basketball, it’s not something new to them and they can hopefully tell others about it and help spread awareness.” 

Robinson receives a great deal of support from his school, classmates and his community, so much so that he became the first wheelchair athlete in New York to start racing in a wheelchair for his school.

“My school has been fully supportive throughout the whole entire thing,” says Robinson. “There hasn’t been any resistance that would keep me from competing.”

Helping other kids and being an ambassador for accessible sports is how Robinson pays it forward for all the support he’s received over the years.
During basketball practice, at the pool or on the track, you’ll find him coaching others and passing on his knowledge. 

“There are times when others [kids] come out to try [a sport],” says Robinson. “Either newly injured or young kids who have just started playing, I try to steer them and explain how the skills used in wheelchair basketball can also be used in everyday life off the court, too.”

Surprising & Exciting

Helping others is a big part of who Robinson is, but things always lead back to taking part in sports. Being competitive. Feeling accomplished. The friendships gained. All elements that have helped Robinson overcome hurdles since he was young. 

During July’s Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals, Robinson earned a handful of first-place finishes in swimming, winning the U16 S7 50-yard backstroke in 51.91 seconds, 50 butterfly in 58.78 seconds, 100 free in 1 minute, 46.14 seconds, 200 free in 3:48.7, 50 breaststroke in 1:20.81, 50 free in 50.44 seconds and 100 backstroke in 1:53.32 and swimming on the first-place U16 S7 100-yard medley relay (1:36.25). He also won the U16 T54 1,500-meter (4:33.92) and 3,000-meter (9:29.3) races in track and field.

Robinson was named the 35th SPORTS ’N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year and presented with an engraved silver platter during the Junior Nationals banquet. Robinson also receives a brand-new wheelchair courtesy of Box Wheelchairs and a complimentary subscription to SPORTS ’N SPOKES magazine. He says it’s a real honor to win the award.

“It’s awesome for me to be SPORTS ’N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year,” says Robinson. “I’ve seen other people go up there to accept this award. I had no clue I was nominated, then to find out I won, it was so surprising and exciting. I’ve always looked up to those that have won in the past, and I’m glad I had the chance to win and [hope] that someday younger kids might look up to me.”

Swimming and track and field are two of his favorite sports, but another event he loves is also his most challenging — the annual Boilermaker 15K Road Race in Utica, N.Y. He finished in 29th place this year, only one week before heading to Wisconsin for the Junior Nationals.

“When I was 4 years old, I remember telling my mom that I wanted to do this race someday,” says Robinson. “Six years later, my fourth-grade class helped raise enough money to buy me a racing wheelchair, and later that year I competed in my first Boilermaker Race. The support from the local community is great and people from all around the area come out in support. It’s a good feeling having so many people cheering me on, and I can’t wait for next year.”

Robinson looks forward to continuing his work with the J-Rob Foundation, plans to take part in next year’s Junior Nationals and has some big life goals in mind for sports and a career.

“I’d like to make the Paralympics in 2020 or 2024 in either swimming or track and field,” Robinson says. “In the future, I’d like to become a doctor and hopefully get into neurosurgery and help kids with disabilities similar to mine.” 

 

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