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Amputee Athletes at Lakeshore Introduce a New Way of Thinking!

Anthony Valdez has played in tournaments on a national level, most recently placing first in his division in 2015. The 27-year-old competitive golfer boasts a 5.7 handicap and can out-swing most of his peers with ease. But Valdez humbly laughs off those accomplishments, focusing more on how far he’s come in the past decade after he shifted his focus from team sports to instead hone his skills on the golf course.

“I’m a better golfer than most of golfing buddies, but it took a while for me to learn how to manipulate my swing and control my body,” Valdez says.

This is because when Anthony Valdez was 16 years old, he lost his leg in a car accident. “I’d been playing football, baseball and basketball since I was six years old,” says the lifelong competitor.

“I had always defined myself as an athlete, but after I lost my leg, none of the sports I had been playing interested me anymore.”

Once Valdez was fitted for a prosthesis he channeled his athleticism into something new. Now, he plays with the National Amputee Golf Association (NAGA) on courses all over the country and has participated in the NAGA Championships in 2012 and 2015. This summer, Valdez joins the Lakeshore staff and is looking forward to sharing his experience with members; especially helping other amputees learn how to apply their athleticism to adapted sports.

Why Lakeshore? According to Valdez,

“It’s largely because of the incredible facilities and staff, who create a place where amputees can accomplish anything and participate in a variety of different sports and activities.”

In fact, Lakeshore’s world-class facilities and instructors make it an excellent training ground for amputees who want to maximize their athletic prowess—whether that means elevating their game in a competitive adapted sports environment or testing their abilities at something new. Additionally, kids and teens who play recreational sports often find that Lakeshore helps them discover that they’re contenders for college athletic scholarships or even the Paralympic Games.

Lakeshore’s suite of adapted sports includes individual sports such as golf, shooting, archery, track and field, water sports; and team. Click here for a complete list of Lakeshore activities. “Most people I meet at Lakeshore who have been functioning as amputee athletes outside of the Lakeshore world say that they didn’t know adapted sports was for them—and that they wished someone had told them about the opportunities sooner,” says Recreation Director Peggy Turner. She’s also quick to point out that the sport specific wheelchairs used in competition aren’t mobility devices—they’re sports equipment.

“If you want to play football, you need helmet and pads; if you want to play baseball, you need a glove; and if you want to play wheelchair basketball, you need a wheelchair,” she says matter-of-factly.

Virginia Powell, a retired schoolteacher who started working at Lakeshore in 2009, was born with a left leg that did not fully develop. At age eight, her lower leg was amputated and she began using a prosthesis, which enabled her to continue to lead an active lifestyle. It wasn’t until she was introduced to adapted sports at Lakeshore that she realized all the ways they could help her maximize her athletic potential.

Powell has always been an avid cyclist, golfer and hiker, but when she came to Lakeshore she discovered that “playing wheelchair sports was fun and freeing.” “Because of my leg, I didn’t have the fast mobility for running,”—although that never stopped her. Now, Powell participates in wheelchair sports like flag football and Run Roll Tennis and has discovered the surprising ways that adapted sports can help her stay even more active and competitive. Powell also leads groups on cycling trips using adapted equipment, such as hand cycles (which allow the athlete to pedal with hands rather than feet) and recumbent bikes for people who have lower-body challenges.

However, many people don’t recognize the need for adapted sports equipment, says Powell.

“Those of us who are amputees are out there doing our own thing, so people might think why do I need to come to Lakeshore, I’m already doing these things? But there’s so much more that they could be doing. There are a lot more opportunities being offered at Lakeshore than at other facilities not geared toward individuals with a disability.”

Perhaps one of the most valuable assets Lakeshore has to offer is the support it gives to its members. Among Lakeshore’s community, you’ll find mentors who can discuss resources for daily living and provide other valuable information for those caring for a person with a disability. “At its heart, Lakeshore is a community of people at different stages of life with a variety of talents and challenges,” says Turner.

“We can introduce people to adapted sports and equipment, sure, but we also offer new ways of thinking. If we know that you can do something, we encourage you do it. I’d invite anyone who’s ready to challenge their perceived limitations and improve their quality of life to come see what’s possible.”