Ivori Hunter being pulled on a water ski chair

Chicago, IL,
08:00 AM

Kids Take To The Water Without Their Wheelchairs

Extreme Recess brings sports to children with disabilities

When you see her in the water, Ivori Hunter looks like any other kid. Her smile is brilliant; her eyes bright and full of life. On this overcast day at the lake, she’s near the shore, sitting at the end of a line attached to the speedboat 30 yards in front of her. She’s obviously nervous, but when the boat starts to move, slowly pulling her through the water, her eyes grow even bigger.

It only takes a few seconds for her to overcome her initial fears. And as the boat speeds up, she throws her arms up in the air, letting out a whoop of joy. It’s Ivori’s first time waterskiing, but this isn’t your typical “first time waterskiing” experience.

Back on land, Ivori is in a wheelchair. And there are dozens more kids with physical and developmental challenges on the dock, waiting for their turn.

A Day to Remember

It’s all part of a program called Extreme Recess, created by Dreams for Kids, a nonprofit organization that brings sports to children with disabilities – many for the first time. Formed in 2000 in Chicago, the name Extreme Recess was given to it by the kids in the program, and that feeling of shared participation permeates the entire enterprise. Most recess clinics feature a 1:1 volunteer to participant ratio, which ensures kids receive the attention and engagement they need. Other Extreme Recess events have included track, baseball, martial arts and snow skiing.

“We all have disabilities of some sort,” said Tom Tuohy, founder of Dreams for Kids. “We don’t ID ourselves as having a disability, but if you’re in a wheelchair, that’s how you’re spoken of and introduced. It’s isolating and disempowering for a young person. Extreme Recess gives these kids the chance to come out from the sidelines by playing sports – many for the first time in their lives.”

Extreme Recess fills an important role in these children’s lives by helping them understand that the same things that are possible for others are possible for them, as well. It encourages a limitless sense of possibility that every child deserves.

“I would have never imagined that my son would have been able to go waterskiing,” said James Michael, the father of an Extreme Recess athlete. “I’m glad that they taught me that lesson – that my boy is capable of so much more than even I thought he was.”

But the day at the lake didn’t just feature waterskiing. Participants went tubing, kayaked, and even enjoyed the water in an amphibious boat car. No wonder Ivori’s smile was so large after her trip around the lake.

“Very awesome,” Hunter said. “I had a blast!”

Making Dreams Possible

Like all not-for-profit programs, Extreme Recess operates with the support of its community. The day of Ivori’s adventure was made possible through a $25,000 grant provided by State Farm’s Neighborhood Assist program. The program, which provides grants for causes that help grow communities and neighborhoods, is voted on by visitors to the State Farm Neighborhood Assist page. Extreme Recess was one of 40 groups in 27 states and provinces which received grants.

“The goal of the Neighborhood Assist program is to empower communities through the individuals that live there,” said Cooper Kennard, State Farm Youth Advisory Board coordinator. “Through these grants, we’re hoping to help build these incredible projects and allow them to be sustainable for years to come.”

It’s a goal that Extreme Recess has taken to heart.

“We keep expanding every year, and we are hoping to offer one day per month in 2015,” Tuohy said. “This program is all about offering new experiences – things these kids have never done or even imagined before. Right now, we’re planning a trip to Key Largo, so that the kids can go deep sea diving to find hidden treasures. I can’t think of a better way to bring these families together and to show these kids that we should be stressing ability – not disability.”

Submissions for the 2014 State Farm Neighborhood Assist program are currently being narrowed down to the top 200 programs. Voting for the final 40 grantees is open to everybody, and will begin on April 28.

boy paddling in a kayak

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