Adaptive sports program teaches life skills to campers

Published on Wednesday, 2 August 2017 20:55
Written by Angie DeRosa

Staff Writer

WEST HARTFORD - Children and teens who take part in the Hospital for Special Care’s Ivan Lendl Adaptive Sports Camp were treated to a visit by the tennis legend himself on Wednesday.

The camp, now in its 27th year, is a weeklong, free day camp on the University of Saint Joseph campus for those ages 6 to 19 living with physical disabilities. This year’s turnout was a record high with 49 registered campers from all over New England and New York.

“It’s nice seeing the same kids over and over,” said Lendl. “And seeing the kids or people who were kids here becoming volunteers or counselors and help with the younger kids, and they give back that way. That’s the best thing about it.”

Lendl spent time with the kids during their lunch hour, posing for pictures and signing autographs.

It all started in 1990, when Janeace Slifka’s son Jonathan - who was born with spina bifida - wanted to play tennis. There weren’t any sports camps on the East Coast - the only ones were out in California.

Through a number of connections, Slifka was able to put together what was then just a wheelchair tennis campus but has since grown into much more.

“Over time it was recognized [that it was] not just tennis that kids with disabilities couldn’t play, but [the camp was an] opportunity to provide instruction and introduction to any sport,” Adaptive Sports and Community Program Manager for Hospital for Special Care Janet Connolly said.

Swimming, seated yoga, golf, tennis basketball, volleyball, soccer and track and field are a few of the activities that kids can choose to participate in.

“Camp isn’t just about teaching those sports skills, but it’s the life skills too. It’s identity and empowerment,” Connolly said.

Coaching and instruction in sports are provided by experienced program specialists, mentors, volunteers and adult athletes living with physical disabilities.

Connolly said that some of the coaching staff is made up of Paralympics level coaches and athletes who were successful in their sport and serve as role models for the campers.

It is the only camp of its kind in the northeast region with many of the campers returning each year, although Connolly said this year welcomed 14 new campers.

“I think one of the most exciting things is seeing kids owning who they are and being able to connect with peers…someone who is more like them than not like them, and they now have new friendships,” Connolly said.

Natalia Jeblonski, 14, of New Britain and Maggie Fusco, 14, of Southington are veterans of the camp. Jeblonski said this was her fourth year attending, and Fusco said it has been at least seven years “but probably more.”

Both of them said the best part about camp is getting to hang out with friends and play all the different kinds of sports. They each said tennis is their favorite to play, and both are part of the track and field team at Hospital for Special Care’s Adaptive Sports Program.

On Aug. 3, Will Reeves of ESPN, and son of Christopher Reeves, will stop by the camp.

“What’s nice is they [the campers] come forever until they can’t anymore. It does the heart good,” Janeace Slifka said.

Angie DeRosa can be reached at 860-801-5063 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, General News on Wednesday, 2 August 2017 20:55. Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2017 20:57.