This week, Berlin High School hosted the Ivan Lendl Adaptive Sports Camp put on by the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.
This is the second year running that the camp is being held in Berlin, after being held at St. Joes for close to 30 years.
The summer day camp for youths living with physical disabilities ran from Monday, Aug. 5 to Friday, Aug. 9.
Campers are exposed to badminton and other indoor racquet sports, bocce, bowling, golf, hand cycling, swimming, tennis, track & field, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair soccer and yoga, as well as arts and dance programs.
The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes a lunch, with optional evening activities also offered.
This is the first year campers had the option to choose between two different tracks, the traditional multi-sport camp with a general sports and recreation focus, and a new sport intensive experience for those seeking skill development in tennis, basketball or track & field.
Wendy DeAngelo is the vice president of development and communications at the Hospital for Special Care, and also assists in running the camp.
“What we try to do is create a balance of opportunities to hone competitive capacities and explore new experiences,” DeAngelo said.
The camp builds confidence and self-esteem, allows children to meet new friends, and also provides the opportunity to participate and learn about sports that they otherwise would not be able to, DeAngelo said. The campers are children from all across Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.
“The reason folks travel to come is because there aren’t many opportunities like this,” DeAngelo said.
One of those campers is Sarah Reid, an 11-year-old from Buffalo, New York. She says that this is the only place where she can come to play tennis.
“It’s fun and I get to play with my friends,” Reid said. “I will come every year that I can.”
Campers can attend from age 6 to 19, and have the option to become a volunteer counselor at age 14, which Reid says she plans on doing.
Andrew Haraghey, 23, from Enfield is one of these campers-turned-counselor. Haraghey also happens to be a Paralympic Skier.
Haraghey, who went to the camp for about five years before becoming a counselor for the last five years, says that the camp was a facilitator in his professional skiing career.
“It gave me quite a good sample size of sports I hadn’t been introduced to,” Haraghey said.
Haraghey said he continues to come back to see his family, and to share the experience of sports with kids in situations similar to his own.
Haraghey is not the only Paralympian on staff.
The United States Tennis Association contracted three-time Paralympian Kaitlyn Verfuerth to teach the tennis sessions.
Verfuerth participated in her first Paralympics in Athens in 2004, then again in Beijing in 2008 and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She placed fourth in Beijing and Rio.
After suffering a spinal cord injury in a car accident at the age of 7, Verfuerth said she began her sporting career at “camps just like this.”
Her first sport was wheelchair basketball, but she turned to tennis because of the opportunity to compete against able-bodied competitors on her high school team.
Verfuerth says that she has just as much fun as the campers.
“If they invite me back I’d love to come back,” Verfuerth said. “It’s been a blast.”
Verfuerth actually plans to change sports for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Paralympics to a fairly new event called paracanoe. She credits this decision to a recent exposure to the sport that she hadn’t had beforehand, which is the same experience that this Adaptive Sports Camp offers.
The camp is funded through the proceeds and collaboration of annual fund-raising efforts, such as the Ivan Lendl Golf Classic held in May. Camp registration is completely free and available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and usually opens sometime in May.
Specialized adaptive equipment is available for loan at no charge, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The equipment is shared among all campers.
The Hospital for Special Care’s adaptive sports program is busy throughout the year. Next up their team will be participating in the Hartford Marathon in October.
DeAngelo and other organizers showed their appreciation for the town of Berlin.
“Berlin High School and the town are wonderful hosts for us,” DeAngelo said.
For more information on how to register or volunteer at camp next year or for any other inquiries about the Hospital for Special Care’s Adaptive Sports program, visit their website at https://hfsc.org/sports-and-fitness/adaptive-sports-program/, or call 860-832-6220.