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Sports for Self-Empowerment: My Ascent to Success

by Jose Rivas, Denton, TX

photo of a climbing wall
The Climbing Wall at the University of North Texas Sports and Recreation Center

Latinos with disabilities face many challenges as they make transitions in life: from one country to another, one language to another, or from school to work. One of the challenges I've faced when making transitions in my life is people's attitudes. Some people treat me as if I were contagious. Others judge me or invent preconceived notions about my abilities based on my condition. Still others are just plain scared of me. At times this has made me feel isolated, rejected, belittled, angry, depressed, and removed from mainstream society.

I have always wanted to engage in outdoor sports. I believe the more integrated social activities that people with disabilities engage in, the more myths and stereotypes about people with disabilities will fall to the wayside.

For example, if a Latino with a speech impediment only interacts with others who have speech impediments, they are less likely to engage in social activities with other people. On the other hand, if that same person interacts with a variety of individuals with and without speech impediments, he or she has a greater chance to enhance social activities to increase awareness about speech impediments among people who do not know about them.

Sports as a Way into Community Involvement
I have always sought out a good deal of community involvement. This is why I tend to pursue social activities aggressively. I enjoy being able to dismiss false stereotypes about my condition as I engage in social and recreational activities such as horseback riding, swimming, scuba diving, weight lifting, boating and skiing.

Currently I am attempting to make it to the top of the 45-foot high climbing wall at the Sports and Recreation Center at the University of North Texas. I am training by following a strict weight lifting plan that will help build my strength to accomplish this activity. This challenge will demonstrate my ability to engage in physical activities while reminding people that those of us with severe disabilities are able to function in a community with proper supports. My personal goal is to dismiss common misperceptions about my ability and to engage in employment, social and recreational activities.

Climbing this wall will give me a sense of empowerment because it allows me the opportunity to make my own choices without criticisms of non-disabled people. The activity will draw attention to my strengths, not on weaknesses, as so commonly perceived by non-disabled individuals.

Even my workout routine has positive effects. It helps integrate disabled and non-disabled club members at the gym. For example, lifting weights is a common practice among non-disabled students and other club members. Lifting weights places me into the mainstream activity at the gym. This gives the community an opportunity to witness my desire and determination to be part of society.

There are many benefits to engaging in social activity and recreation. These include building employment and peer networks and interpersonal relationships. I have found this true in my experience training for and climbing the wall.