The National Ability Center Safely Socializes Students With Fun + Fitness

Ping Ping Cortez gets a head start with volunteer Amanda Green and Tod the Horse at the National Ability Center. Cortez is one of the participants in the NAC’s new Fun + Fitness program.
Courtesy of the Cortez family

COVID-19 changed the whole format of education this spring and essentially removed the in-person socialization that students usually get when they go to school.

The National Ability Center has decided to fill the void with a new program called Fun + Fitness, which gives students of all levels the chance to socialize with their peers and participate in outdoor physical activities outside of the home. said Andrea Stack, of the NAC camp, community and education manager.

“Fun + Fitness is a combination of many activities, which focuses on the social stuff,” Stack said. “We wanted to focus on team sports – volleyball, badminton, kickball and things of that nature. In addition to learning how sports are traditionally played, we also include a skills awareness component in each session. “

The first session started on September 14 and will run until October 14, and registration is open for the next session which runs from October 26 to December, Stack said.

“The kids join us one or two days a week, and it’s really great,” she said.

To meet COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, each group is regulated to five students per session, with two staff members who will facilitate activities, according to Stack.

“There is always the wearing of the mask, and we have a preference to go outside whenever we can,” she said. “If we have to organize sessions indoors, we are fortunate to have large facilities that allow air circulation. “

Staff also take the time to clean and disinfect equipment and playing surfaces between each session, Stack said.

“We believe we can do everything that is safe for people who want to get active,” she said.

One of those people is Ping Ping Cortez, 15, who has been diagnosed with spina bifida.

Cortez’s parents, Kathy and Jerry, signed her up for Fun + Fitness, where she developed a love for badminton, according to Kathy.

“She’s never played badminton before,” said Kathy. “They started with balloons to get kids used to snowshoes, and they just moved on to birdies.”

In addition to learning to play badminton and other team sports, Cortez developed other life tools.

“I developed my team spirit and my listening skills,” she says.

Additionally, Cortez participated in mountain biking and rock climbing.

“Climbing is a challenge for her because she can’t use her legs, but it’s also her second favorite activity after skiing,” said Kathy. “I asked her why and she said, ‘I never thought I could use my own body without a wheelchair or crutches, and by climbing I can go in such and such a direction with the power. of my own body. ‘”

The Cortezes discovered the National Ability Center two years ago, just before adopting Ping Ping from China, according to Kathy.

“I met one of their volunteers backstage at a Steve Miller Band concert,” said Kathy. “Her granddaughter also has spina bifida, and she told us about the National Ability Center.”

The Cortezes decided to enroll Ping Ping at a National Ability Center camp after returning from another camp that was not too accessible.

“Ping Ping asked if she could go to a wheelchair camp next because she can walk a bit on crutches, but after 50 feet she is quite tired,” said Kathy. “That’s when I remembered this National Ability Center.”

Last year, Ping Ping went horseback riding and skiing.

“She was so natural in skiing that they told us if she could tick off a skills list she would be eligible to join the Paralympic team,” said Kathy. “Unfortunately, she was unable to complete the final checks because COVID-19 ended the ski season earlier.”

Stack said it was important for the National Ability Center to offer Fun + Fitness during the pandemic to deliver not only physical benefits, but mental health benefits as well.

“There is peace through connection and I think now, more than ever, people need it, especially in a world where isolation would be so easy to slip into under the circumstances,” she said. declared.

Kathy becomes emotional when she talks about the benefits of Fun + Fitness for Ping Ping.

“The first day I picked her for a shoot, I walked over to the door and heard the children screaming with laughter,” she said. “Ping Ping is an only child, so she hasn’t had anyone to play with during the COVID shutdown. And now she is finally playing.

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