Aspiring U.S. Paralympians to gather at UC Berkeley

U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, will hold a regional Gateway to Gold event at UC Berkeley next fall in hopes of identifying athletes with the potential to compete in a future Paralympic Games, a major international, multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities.

The campus is hosting the talent identification event – one of four in the nation to be held this year — in partnership with the non-profit Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP) and U.S. Paralympics. BORP is the leading Bay Area provider and promoter of accessible sports and recreation opportunities for people with physical disabilities.

Matt Grigorieff, student founder of UC Berkeley's Athletics for All, and Rick Smith, executive director of the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program. (UC Berkeley photo by Kevin Nguyen).

Matt Grigorieff, student founder of UC Berkeley’s Athletics for All, and Rick Smith, executive director of the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program. (UC Berkeley photos by Kevin Nguyen).

An estimated 100 athletes in four sports – wheelchair basketball, archery, swimming and cycling – are expected to participate on Saturday, Oct. 17, with emphasis placed on individuals of high school and college age. The objective of the Gateway to Gold program is to grow the number of Paralympic-eligible athletes with a physical, visual or intellectual impairment. The event is free to all participants.

“U.S. Paralympics aspires to make society more inclusive for people with an impairment through sports, and that’s a goal that we and BORP share. We’re very honored to host Gateway to Gold here on campus,” said Matt Grigorieff, UC Berkeley student founder of Athletics for All, an effort to create the state’s first college sports program for student-athletes and community members with disabilities. The program builds educational awareness of disability by including students without disabilities in its classes and on its teams.

“The Paralympic movement continues to see tremendous growth in the United States, both through athlete participation and through support for programs at the community level,” added Rick Smith, executive director of BORP. “It’s great that there is also growing interest at UC Berkeley at the highest levels to provide adaptive sport opportunities to students with disabilities.”

In addition to Gateway to Gold, to be held at the Recreational Sports Facility, the campus will hold disability-awareness activities that day such as special talks and an event celebrating service dogs.

Award-winning partnership

Last month, BORP and the Graduate School of Education’s Cultural Studies of Sport in Education program received a $10,000 Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund award for their combined efforts building Athletics for All, which in the fall of 2014 created the Cal goalball team, the first competitive college athletic team in the nation for blind students. Next fall, power soccer will join goalball and other adaptive sports, such as golf, that already are offered at Berkeley.

The Goal Ball team

The Cal goalball team is part of the campus’s Athletics for All program.

Grigorieff said Athletics for All also “integrates Berkeley students with non-Berkeley students to have more people playing these sports, and offers the chance for students with disabilities who have hesitated to attend college to meet their peers at Berkeley and aspire to join them in higher education.”

BORP, based in Berkeley, offers people with a wide range of disabilities the chance to participate in competitive and recreational team sports as well as individual activities through its cycling center, fitness facility and Adventures and Outings program. Along with recreational fun, BORP also emphasizes adaptive sports’ many social and developmental benefits – improved health and fitness, good sportsmanship, team building, increased self-confidence and a supportive peer network.

Smith said a major push nationwide for equal opportunity in athletics for students with disabilities occurred in January 2013, when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a letter obliging public elementary and secondary schools under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to provide qualified students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in and benefit from intercollegiate, club and intramural athletics. Smith was one of 15 heads of organizations nationwide who created a national Athletics for All task force to get high school students engaged in interscholastic sports and college students engaged in intercollegiate sports by integrating adaptive sports into the regular sports curriculum.

“The movement is just beginning, and we need more kids, parents and schools on board,” said Smith, adding that while colleges and universities weren’t the primary targets of the U.S. government’s push, “the fact UC Berkeley and BORP have been able to develop Athletics for All on the Berkeley campus is exciting and a model for other schools.”