As difficult as it is for well-known Olympic athletes to fund their dreams, it’s even harder for athletes with disabilities. In addition to coaching and training, athletes with disabilities often require specialized equipment to make them more competitive on the field.
As a result, programs which cater to physically challenged athletes are often underfunded. According to the U.S. Olympic Committee, of the 186 Paralympic Sports Clubs in the country, 60 percent have an operating budget that’s less than $150,000.
To address the problem, Jersey City native and four-time Paralympic gold medalist Ray Martin has joined forces with BP to help raise money for Paralympic Sports Clubs located in New Jersey and New York. Through the end of February, BP customers can purchase $1 window clings at 300 locations, the proceeds from which will help the five Paralympic Sports Clubs in New Jersey and New York buy equipment and hire qualified coaching staff.
A competitive track and field racer, Martin won four gold medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and was named Paralympic Sportsman of the Year for 2012 by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
‘Every week I had a track practice on Friday nights. I looked forward to it because I could feel comfortable in my skin.’ – Ray Martin
Martin, who still lives in Jersey City when he’s not in school, was born with arthogryposis, a disorder that affects the joints and can cause fingers and limbs to curl in on themselves. He uses a wheelchair, for example, because his legs are twisted.
For the kids
“The Paralympic Sports Clubs is actually a whole organization that helps children with disabilities get active in team sports,” said Martin, whose first introduction to the clubs came through the North Jersey Navigators, a Paralympic Club that’s now based in Bayonne. Martin began training at the club when he was just five.
“The Paralympic Sports Clubs help in other aspects of life,” he added. “Every week I had a track practice on Friday nights. I looked forward to it because I could feel comfortable in my skin. I could go and just hang out with my friends and while doing that I could get quality training.”
Despite his limitations, Martin broke a world record for wheelchair racing while qualifying for the London Games, an international competition for which he began training in 2010, he said.
It was while training at the Paralympic Club in Bayonne that Martin said his coach, Jimmy Cuevas, first noticed his talents and began training him for competitive track and field races.
While the clubs primarily offer an outlet for people with disabilities to stay active and get in shape, according to Martin, they are also the main place where elite athletes get training and support in preparation for the Paralympic Games. The organization hosts training camps and regional competitions to better prepare the athletes.
But this training isn’t cheap.
Wheelchair-bound athletes require specialized chairs to compete in each sport – from basketball to track and field. The chairs are lighter than regular wheelchairs, have special wheels and tires, and, for some sports, have three wheels instead of the usual four. These chairs, according to Martin, can cost as much as $2,500 to 3,000. Specialized wheels are an extra cost, and top para-athletes – like other elite athletes – are loathe to share their equipment with others.
Speaking of his paralympic club, Martin said, “We just don’t have the funds to keep buying race chairs as the number of athletes [increases]. For track and field, it’s actually a really expensive sport to compete in. I probably went through about six or seven chairs during the years I was training with the Navigators. That’s why we’re looking for help from companies like BP, so we can help out other athletes and other aspiring Olympians.”
To learn more about the North Jersey Navigators, contact Jimmy Cuevas, adaptive sports head coach, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.