BERLIN - For many, summer is a time for camp, and the Hospital for Special Careâ€™s Ivan Lendl Adaptive Sports Camp, now in its 28th year, helps open that experience up for many who might not otherwise have a chance.
The week-long, free day camp is being held at Berlin High School this week for young athletes age 6 to 19 living with physical disabilities.
â€śThe Hospital for Special Care Adaptive Sports Camp is only held once a year for one week,â€ť noted Janet Connolly, manager for the Hospital of Special Care Adaptive Sports Program. â€śThe goal for the camp is to introduce kids living with disabilities to as many sports opportunities as possible.â€ť
But the Adaptive Sports Camp does more than just introduce kids with disabilities to sports; it helps children create strong bonds and relationships that will last a lifetime.
â€śThis camp does everything,â€ť Connolly said. â€śIt opens their eyes to opportunities, sports and skills that they never knew they had. Sometimes itâ€™s the only time throughout the whole year that theyâ€™re interacting and engaging with other kids that are like themselves. Many of our kids live in places where they are the only person that presents like them.â€ť
With 42 kids registered at this yearâ€™s camp, the Hospital of Special Care provided experienced 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.
Ivan Lendl, a retired professional tennis player and member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame who was the world No. 1 for 270 weeks in the 1980s, visited the camp on Wednesday.
â€śWe have plenty of kids, which is great,â€ť Lendl said. â€śMy favorite part about the camp is the fact that children come full circle. They start off as campers and then they come back to help other kids. I see a bunch of kids come back. The ones who come back as counselors are the best.â€ť
Lendl spent time with the kids during their lunch hour, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
Dana Albrycht, who swam in the 1996 and 2000 Paralympic Games, was also taking part in the Adaptive Sports Camp. During the Games, he specialized in the 100-meter butterfly, 50- and 100-meter freestyles and 200-meter individual medley.
Albrycht was born with a deformed hip socket, causing his right leg to be shorter than his left. When he was just 11 months old, his leg was amputated because it would have limited his movement.
â€śI got involved in disabled sports when I was 10 or 11 years old,â€ť Albrycht said. â€śI grew up in Canton and [it has] one of the only 50-meter pools in the state. At the time there was a woman named Joan Karpuk who was coaching a couple of future Paralympians and she saw me there, a little pool rat, and it opened up my eyes to disabled sports.â€ť
Albrycht has been helping coach the swim team at the Hospital for Special Care for the last year. When Connolly asked him to help out at this yearâ€™s camp, he did not hesitate.
â€śI have a lot of the life lessons that I can pass it on to these kids,â€ť Albrycht said. â€śGoing through the Paralympics and other stuff that I have gone through, things I didnâ€™t even know I was going through, like depression or kids picking on you, I internalized that and I can give that to them now, at a lot earlier age, and I can talk to them about it.â€ť
Itâ€™s not just about sports for Albrycht.
â€śItâ€™s about the friendships and relationships that they build,â€ť Albrycht. â€śSometimes these kids, this is the one time of year they get to be with kids that are like them, and thatâ€™s a pretty cool experience.â€ť
Natalia Jeblonski of New Britain and Maggie Fusco of Southington, both 15, are veterans of the camp. Jeblonski said this was her fifth year attending, and Fusco said she couldnâ€™t remember because sheâ€™s been doing it for so long.
Both said the best part about camp is getting to hang out with friends and play all the different kinds of sports.
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860)801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org