At BlazeSports America, a nonprofit that brings sports to disabled people, preparations are in full swing for the London 2012 Paralympics, which begin on Aug. 29.
Stuart Sharp, a BlazeSports director, told GlobalAtlanta that his organization will be represented at every level of the games, ranging from the athletes to an executive of the International Paralympic Committee.
“We couldn’t believe with our small organization how we’re covered… every single level of the Paralympics,” he said, pointing to his staff of 11 full-time employees.
Mr. Sharp will be among the BlazeSports’ members soon to be headed to London in charge of the U.S. soccer activities and will be joined by the U.S. swim coach and the Haitian ‘chef de mission.’
The London games won’t be the first international sports stage that the Decatur-based nonprofit has worked–BlazeSports was launched in the early 1990’s to serve as the legacy of the 1996 Paralympics Games in Atlanta.
At the close of the 1996 games, BlazeSports moved its headquarters from downtown to Decatur and began working nationally and internationally, hosting sports festivals and teaching communities to run sports programs for disabled persons.
Thus far, 38 U.S. states and 48 countries have been touched by BlazeSports since 1996, with current projects in Haiti, Jordan and Russia.
BlazeSports also has a relationship with SportsUnited of the U.S. Department of State‘s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Grants from the department’s diplomacy division have supported successful international disability sports programs, including the most recent BlazeSports in Haiti project.
And even when many of its staff will be in London for the Paralympics, the headquarters will remain open here, continuing to develop and help manage the many other programs with which it is involved.
“What we’re really trying to do is build bridges between as many individuals with disabilities as we can,” said Mr. Sharp, adding that sports provide a great means for disabled persons to make friends and be active.
Mara Galic, BlazeSports’ chief operating officer, echoed Mr. Sharp’s sentiments on the value of sports as a resource for developing a sense of community for people with disabilities.
“The importance of sports and physical activity for individuals with physical disabilities–I don’t think a lot of people realize how powerful that can be,” she said.
People with one disability are prone to develop another such as obesity, depression or chronic fatigue, afflictions that can become more disabling than their original disability, she added.
Interacting with other men, women and children with physical disabilities around sports events, according Ms. Galic, builds both physical fitness and spiritual well being.
She also was especially passionate about working with veterans returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq under a program that was launched in 2008.
The program sponsored by the U.S. Paralympics enables BlazeSports to partner at Georgia Army bases with Warrior Transition Units that provide personal support to soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitation care and complex medical management.
BlazeSports uses sports such as archery, bowling and swimming as part of the veterans’ rehabilitation. It also hosts festivals including the Roosevelt Games and BlazeCamp 2012, which were held earlier this year at Warm Springs in Georgia.
The Roosevelt Games drew some 40 disabled servicemen to the week-long event in April, and BlazeCamp 2012 hosted 18 disabled youths for a week of paralympic-style games, fishing and camp life.
For more information, go to www.blazesports.org. To learn more about the London Paralympics go to http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/. For the State Department, go to http://exchanges.state.gov/sports/index.html