Rebeca Valenzuela grinned ear to ear as she talked about the opportunities presented to her at the Triumph Foundation’s Wheelchair Sports Festival held at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex on Saturday.
Valenzuela had only recently become paralyzed, so the chance to play the sports she once loved, now adapted for her, was a blessing.
“It’s actually really amazing,” said Valenzuela. “I only became paralyzed eight months ago, so for me to be able to do sports like this compared to how I used to do sports, because I was super athletic, for it to be easy for us and accessible for us to be in wheelchairs and actually play games, it’s really cool.”
Valenzuela particularly liked that she was able to play contact sports that were “dangerous,” such as rugby and hockey, and said it made her feel able.
The event featured an array of adapted sports in addition to rugby and hockey, including basketball, racquetball, baseball, handcycling and archery.
Kevin Mather, an archery coach for the event, said that by midday he’d already instructed several athletes who’d never shot arrows before — a gratifying feeling for him. Mather said what Triumph has been able to accomplish is nothing short of amazing.
“What the Triumph Foundation does for people with disabilities is incredible. Their programming for sports and adaptive recreation is really foundational to people getting back and involved in their community,” said Mather, who continued by saying playing sports is also a way for the community to socialize. “The Triumph Foundation is bringing that back to people’s lives, that otherwise would be a little lost — getting back into society, socializing, meeting people that look like you, work like you, move like you. It’s an important part of life and being connected to society.”
Andrew Skinner, founder of the Triumph Foundation, said his favorite part about the event was seeing the faces of joy as they experienced something that may have been previously thought to be unattainable. In addition to the joy felt by those in wheelchairs, the expression could also be seen on the faces of their families as well.
“My message to anybody living with a disability, and especially the families is that there’s a life worth living for them,” said Skinner. “That there’s opportunities for them to come out and be amongst other people that understand and welcome them.”
Valenzuela’s mother, Rebeca Sundling, said events like these don’t just help people like her daughter, they provide support for the families as well.
“We get to a point sometimes where we get afraid when our kids are facing and struggle with their own physical situation and having all the people supporting these type of programs doesn’t only help our kids, it helps the parents to go through a process too, because it’s not all about the kids. It’s about having to see your kid succeeding in life,” said Sundling.
Valenzuela echoed her mother’s words by saying these events not only help get people like her out of their comfort zone, but help their families do the same.
“There’s really no limits for people who are disabled. There’s no limits for people who have no disabilities and [for those] who don’t have the advantage of using their full body potential when they can,” said Valenzuela. “This is gonna be something to take them out of their comfort zone, to be in a chair, to push themselves to be basically like one of us and be put in our shoes, at least for a couple hours.”
Triumph Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of people living with disabilities. The annual Wheelchair Sports Festival is the organization’s largest event of the year.