By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
The Triumph Foundation hosted its ninth annual Wheelchair Sports Festival last weekend.
The event was the first WSF event in three years and had dozens of sports available for all at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex.
Wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users played together in sports like basketball, rugby/murderball, archery and tennis.
Hundreds of athletes joined for the two-day event, with some trying new things for the first time while others flashed their skill.
Triumph’s founder, Andrew Skinner, could be seen all over the event with his Triumph captains and volunteers all working to make the event run smoothly.
Skinner is a recovering quadriplegic after suffering a spinal cord injury more than 15 years ago. He has always lived an active lifestyle and won’t slow down just because he’s in a wheelchair.
“People don’t realize how many folks live locally with a disability,” said Skinner. “There’s not a lot of interaction with people who suffered an injury. This event highlights them in a way the general population doesn’t see. When you come to an event like this, you don’t see people in what they can’t do, you see them in what they can do.”
One of the athletes at the WSF was Simon Bartolome.
Bartolome was a blur on the basketball court. Even though he was one of the smallest players, he’d be seen flying by defenders in transition and sinking shots.
“Days like this are very special,” said Bartolome. “Everyone here is gathered for the same causes, which is staying active and playing sports. It’s great to see everyone here participating and trying new sports they’ve probably never tried before.”
Bartolome has spina bifida, which has stunted his growth.
The 21-year-old has not let that stop him from being active and doing things people say he can’t do.
“I just want to be thankful for Triumph Foundation for hosting events like this,” said Bartolome. “These are once every year and it’s always fun to come over here.”
The event featured athletes of all ages, including Roman Samarge, a 10-year-old who took part in numerous activities.
Samarge encourages other athletes in wheelchairs or with anything they consider barriers to playing sports to come out.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Samarge. “I first started playing basketball here over in that corner. You’re going to be good. If you come here a lot, you’ll get used to it and eventually you won’t be afraid.”
Triumph advocates for the disabled community outside of sports as well.
The nonprofit recently put together a presentation for the Pasadena Police Department on arresting/encountering a wheelchair user.
However, the bulk of Triumph’s work is done in hospitals, providing support and mentorship for recently disabled people.
The festival is one of Triumph’s biggest events and even after being on hold for three years due to COVID-19, the event still had a turnout of more than 700 visitors and 142 volunteers.
“It felt great to be back doing the festival again,” said Skinner. “Best part was we had new participants that had never come to any event before.”
Triumph’s next big event will be a “Let’Em Roll Gala” casino night on July 23 at the Universal City Hilton. The nonprofit is always looking for volunteers and participants to help raise money for the foundation. July’s event’s proceeds will benefit children, adults and veterans with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. For more information, go to triumph-foundation.org/event/letemrollgala.