Over the summer, Disabled Sports USA sought out nominations for the top adaptive states in the nation. After a few hundred responses and a survey of our constituents, the list has been whittled down to the top ten. Here is what you said.
Colorado, by far, was the most popular state for adaptive sports, receiving thirty percent of the vote. This may not be a surprise to many. Kurt Hahn from Telluride Adaptive said “Colorado offers a little bit of everything with many adaptive organizations to choose from in all corners of the state. There are lakes, rivers, mountains and deserts to explore and adaptations of all kinds. With several major hubs and access to beautiful places, it is a state not to be missed for adventures.
In fact, Colorado is home to the most Disabled Sports USA chapters with fourteen, or nearly ten percent of our current local chapter network. So if you live or visit Colorado, there is an abundance of opportunity for you to participate in adaptive sports. These organizations have the equipment, training, and people to assist you in fulfilling your sports and recreational dreams. David Beerman of Broomfield agrees, saying “I have an obvious bias living here . . . but where else can you have true 4-season opportunities?”
California came in second, with eighteen percent of the overall vote. Again, no surprise here. It is one of the largest states in terms of land mass (therefore an array of outdoor possibilities) and one of the largest in terms of population. Although larger in size and population, it also comes in second to the overall number of Disabled Sports USA chapters with thirteen.
Tom Rhodes put it best, stating: “California hands down from the ocean to the mountains year round 365 days a year!!” Think about it, how many states can you go surfing and snow skiing as well? But we really loved what Tom Perez wrote when he nominated California: “I am a blind vet. When I first became blind, I thought I couldn’t participate in sports like I did when I was sighted. I sat on a couch feeling sorry for myself for two years. Then my wife emailed a video of the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto. My recreational therapists, Rachel and Lindsay showed me that many sports are available to B/VI athletes. At the WBRC I learned about tandem cycling as a blind stoker. I have also been wall climbing and white water rafting down the American River. We moved from the Bay Area to San Diego and found an abundance of adaptive sports opportunities.” Perez has experienced success through adaptive sports, winning a gold medal at the Valor Games – Far West, finishing third (in tandem) in the El Tour de Tucson ( a 50 mile race), and he was part of the first tandem bike to cross the metric century at the San Diego Gran Fondo.
Coming in third place is Florida, with nine percent. Laurie Gussak, Executive Director of the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association suggests the state has “a vast array of accessible inclusive programs!” In addition to their own work and other adaptive sports organizations, Florida State Parks works to provide accessibility and inclusion in park facilities, camping, programs and activities and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provides resources for hunters with a disability, anglers with a disability, paddlers with a disability as well as other resources. Visit Florida is working to ensure that our beautiful state is welcoming to people of all abilities. https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/florida-events/events-activities-disabled-special-needs.html
Sam Maizlech from Glacier Wellness concurs. “Florida is arguably one of the best states for adaptive recreation for the simple reason that they have countless dedicated organizations spanning countless sports. For starters, local governments have made huge strides in providing inclusive sports opportunities for both civilians and veterans. Take Tampa for example, where the VA’s Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events runs an extremely successful Adaptive Sports Program from the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. There’s also the Miami-Dade Office of Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces which offers a variety of adaptable sports programs throughout the county.”
Maizlech points to the work of the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA) in particular as “one of the many remarkable resources, which offers programs for para-badminton, adaptive biking, sit water-skiing and everything in between. While there are many similar organizations and programs throughout the state, few are popular as the Florida Sled Hockey Association and multiple National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) teams.”
“Overall, Florida offers a truly special collection of inclusive opportunities for competitive, recreational, and spectator sports,” Maizlech said.
Fourth on the list is New Hampshire. “New England in general is saturated with Adaptive Sport programs…and taking into account the number of adaptive sport programs in New Hampshire and the number of square miles that make up our small state, by comparison,” said Crystal Skahan, Education & Training Director at Northeast Passage. “New Hampshire has the most variety in close proximity to best serve clients in state and across the region! Eileen Page agrees: “By far New Hampshire offers a variety of different programs to peak the interest of all participants.
Skahan is also correct about New England as a strong region for adaptive sports. If you were to check out the number of pins on the map of Disabled Sports USA chapters (https://www.disabledsportsusa.org/chapters/location-map/) in the northeast you, would find a number of landscape full of local adaptive sports programs.
Rounding out the top five is Oregon with eight percent of the vote. According to Kelly Standish of Oregon Adaptive Sports, the state is “a mecca for outdoor recreation. The First Man, Dan Little, has made it his mission to make sure that everyone has access to the outdoors. His project “Roadmap to the Outdoors” is working to bring together and amplify the work or organizations promoting diversity in the outdoors. “Oregon is one of the most inclusive spaces I’ve ever lived in and it’s also experiencing a ton of growth. As we continue to grow, there is more and more emphasis on ensuring that all different kinds of voices are included in the process. Travel Oregon is currently highlighting accessible recreation on their website,” Standish said. “I really have never seen a community so ready to dive into inclusion!”
THE REST OF THE PACK
The other states making up the top ten include Maryland, Virginia, Maine, Michigan, and Vermont. Paul Bollinger, Jr. Executive Director of Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), a chapter of Disabled Sports USA located in Maryland, was one of the individuals making a pitch for his state. “Maryland is the best state for adaptive boating,” he said pointing out the Chesapeake Bay as a major resource for water lovers.
Ruth Meyer from Charlottesville, Virginia had lots of good things to say about the opportunities available in the Commonwealth, pointing out Wintergreen Adapted Sports and the VA Medical Centers (VAMC) in McGuire and Salem. She also mentioned the Masters of Adaptive Physical Education program at the University of Virginia as a highlight.
Bryan Wilkinson of Michigan said it quite clearly when he made the case for his state: “It’s an awesome state and awesome time to be a wheelchair user in our great lakes state. Michigan is the best, because we have trackchairs for our state parks and a huge variety of sporting outlets.” Wilkinson specifically referenced several organizations have provide adaptive sports programming, including Michigan Adaptive Sports, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA and others like Michigan Sports Unlimited, Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors, and Got Ability Sport as well as some hospitals that have organized sports like Rehab Institute of Michigan (Sportsabilities), Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Sports, and Michigan Medicine (University of Michigan Adaptive and Inclusive Sports Experience). “Also, we have the two big universities Michigan and Michigan State making waves for adaptive sports and recreation.”
Last but not least is Vermont. Norm Staunton from Vermont Adaptive made a very compelling argument. “Short answer is Vermont is the best state in the country for Adaptive Sports. We have it all. World class skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. Amazing rock and ice climbing. Some of the best mountain biking and road biking in the world. Amazing sailing on Lake Champlain, paddling of every kind across the state. We have camping, marathons, century rides, sled hockey teams, and more. All of those activities are accessible through a huge network of nonprofits and programs from Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports that covers the entire state and all disabilities, to geographic, sport, or disability specific programs including Northeast Disabled Athletics Association, Special Olympics Vermont, Stowe Adaptive, Smugglers Notch Adaptive Program, Bart J. Ruggiere Adaptive Sports Center, Mount Snow Adaptive, Partners in Adventure, to the Pioneers Sled Hockey Team to nationally known access and funding groups like the Kelly Brush Foundation and High Fives Foundation. For a state of only 600,000 people, we are rich in adaptive sport resources, offer world class programs, and are able to both serve our citizens and be a destination to the world.”
Most of the states on the top then list are indeed synonymous with an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, including stunning mountain peaks, pristine waterways, wonderful hiking trails, and many others. The correlation can also be made that there are strong adaptive sports organizations in each of these states, so organizations, communities, and the culture is there to promote, support, and provide adaptive sports instruction, equipment, and support. Do you agree with this final list? What states are missing from this list? In the rapidly changing adaptive sports field, future results could look different.
TOP 10 STATES FOR ADAPTIVE SPORTS: