Paralympic and adaptive sports have risen in popularity, as more and more people with disabilities are clamoring to hit the gym or run laps around the track. Technological developments are a big reason for this. Years ago an amputee who lost her foot couldn’t run laps, but new technology has led to prosthetic limbs that make it possible for that same person to compete in track and field. The possibilities are expanding for the disabled thanks to medical advancements—and to the many new facilities geared towards empowering people with disabilities. Here are the 10 most impressive adaptive sports facilities for 2016.
Chula Vista Olympic Training Center
Chula Vista, California
This 155-acre venue, an official Olympic and Paralympic training facility, is located next to the Lower Otay Reservoir in San Diego County. A gift from the San Diego National Sports Training Foundation, the complex boasts four natural turf soccer fields, six sand volleyball courts and three state-of-the-art BMX tracks. It also provides 1,000 meals per day and 133 beds for athletes who stay there, while the 5,400-square-foot strength and conditioning center offers yet another place to train. The Chula Vista Olympic Training Center opened in 1995 and has housed thousands of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, in addition to visitors from around the world. This year, it has been a haven for American athletes as they prepare to head to Rio de Janeiro this summer.
Opened in 2001 and geared towards providing people with disabilities a place for recreation and training, Lakeshore has risen to the top of the ranks of world-class fitness facilities. The complex covers 45 acres and has two heated pools, a fieldhouse with three hardwood courts and a 200-meter track, a climbing wall and a seven-lane marksmanship range. In addition to its impressive amenities, Lakeshore acts as an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site, while the venue is also the home of the USA Wheelchair Rugby team. Situated in the suburbs of Birmingham, Lakeshore serves as one of the South’s most attractive adaptive sports facilities.
Ken Lanning Golf Center
Jefferson City, Missouri
This venue is one of the first of its kind, a totally unique experience. The Ken Lanning Golf Center is a 9-hole course intended to meet the needs of handicapped golfers. Each hole is a par 3, and no hole is longer than 120 yards. The land is flat and there are few hazards, making it easier for people in wheelchairs to navigate the terrain. Also aiding in this effort are wheelchair-accessible ramps at every green and an abundance of cart paths around the entire course. The Ken Lanning Golf Center believes golf should be a sport for everyone, and since its opening earlier this year, the venue has allowed people with disabilities the chance to enjoy the game like never before. The course hosts dozens of tournaments and events every year, while a multitude of hotels nearby make it easy to stay overnight in Jefferson City after a round of golf during the day.
Training home to the U.S. Paralympic basketball teams, the SPIRE complex might just be one of the most impressive indoor facilities in the country. Its many state-of-the-art features make it distinctive, yet SPIRE also caters to the needs of people with disabilities. Spread out over 160 acres with 750,000 square feet of enclosed space, the six-year-old facility has hosted a number of tournaments, including events for the Atlantic 10 and Big Ten and Big East college conferences. It also bid on the 2013-14 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships; though not selected by the Paralympic Committee to host that event, the complex was selected that same year as an official Paralympic training site for the United States. The features are nearly endless and certainly extraordinary—SPIRE has one of the largest indoor tracks in the world. It has an indoor-outdoor football complex. It has high-tech professional baseball batting cages. But SPIRE’s greatest asset is that it offers opportunities for anyone looking to train in an ultramodern facility.
Plassman Athletic Center
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Operating out of northeast Indiana, Turnstone, which owns the Plassman Athletic Center, is a not-for-profit organization that provides therapeutic, educational, wellness, sport and recreational programs for people with disabilities. The people at Turnstone hope to empower the disabled, and the 120,000-square-foot Plassman Athletic Center is one way to do this. Opened in 2015, the complex is one of the three largest Paralympic sport clubs in the United States. It boasts a variety of features, including a 65,000-square-foot fieldhouse, a warm-water pool with a wheelchair ramp and a health and wellness center. All of these amenities were constructed with adaptive sports and training in mind—locker rooms, showers and restrooms are all specifically designed to fit the needs of people with disabilities.
Winter Park Resort
Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park Resort is a wonderful destination for skiing and snowboarding during the winter months and mountain biking in the summer, yet it also functions as a site for the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Started in 1970, the NSCD first offered ski lessons for kids at the Denver Children’s Hospital, and the program has developed substantially in the past 40 years. It now offers instruction to over 3,000 children and adults with disabilities from specially-trained staff and volunteers in a variety of sports. Winter activities consist of alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, Nordic hut trips and ski racing. From May through September, the NSCD provides recreational training in kayaking, canoeing, horse pack trips, mountain biking, camping and rock-climbing. Because of the efforts of the National Sports Center for the Disabled, specifically at the Winter Park Resort, people with disabilities have never had so many entertaining opportunities.
Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center
Charlotte, North Carolina
Built in 1991, the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center closed for renovations on June 1, 2015 and plans to reopen on the same date this year. With a plethora of new features—including an expanded lobby, new diving boards and starting blocks, an ultraviolet disinfection system and new bulkheads—the facility is almost ready for its grand reopening. It’s also prepared to host swimming competitions at the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, where top athletes will fight for a spot on the American team and a chance to represent their country in Rio de Janeiro September 7-18. When it reopens in June, the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center will undoubtedly be one of the most advanced venues for swimming and diving competitions in the Southeast.
Huff Hall Gym
This historic venue is home to the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams at the University of Illinois, where the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services has worked for years to allow the disabled the chance to learn and compete in a variety of innovative forms. Also a haven for Fighting Illini volleyball, Huff Hall went through a major renovation process in 2014. It houses a training room, a weight room and completely revamped locker rooms on the first floor. The facility hosted the 2012 National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, which was won by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Though generally not a top venue for major Paralympic events, Huff Hall has helped the University of Illinois achieve its goal of empowering people with disabilities as they take on new intellectual and athletic endeavors.
University of Central Oklahoma Wellness Center
The University of Central Oklahoma has traditionally been a key location for Paralympic and adaptive sports activities. In 2004, the Endeavor Games, a multi-sport competition for athletes with disabilities, took place at the Wellness Center, where the men’s national sitting volleyball team started training in 2005. That same year, UCO became an official U.S. Paralympic training site—it is now one of the only universities in America to be both an Olympic and Paralympic training location. The Wellness Center offers a dynamic complex for the U.S. men’s and women’s sitting volleyball teams to prepare for this summer’s Paralympic Games in Brazil.
Lincoln, New Hampshire
Although Loon Mountain may not be quite as large or high-tech in comparison to some of the other facilities on this list, it is definitely comparable in terms of adaptive sports facilitation. In a great location just two hours from Boston, the venue began its adaptive programs for people with disabilities back in 1987. Today, the New England Disabled Sports program bases itself at Loon Mountain, where it offers more than 20 different sports camps and clinics, including skiing, snowshoeing, waterskiing, cycling, golfing, surfing, sailing, triathlon, fishing and tennis. People with disabilities have the opportunity to take one-on-one instructive classes, while NEDS provides state-of-the-art specialized equipment for those who need it. Also home to the Disabled Ski Hall of Fame, Loon Mountain is one of the Northeast’s top adaptive sports facilities.
For information on sports facilities and sports-friendly destinations around the country, check out the annual Sports Planning Guide.