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Collin LaFon reaches for the stars in hopes of one day representing U.S.A in Paralympics

Collin Lafon’s life began earlier than anyone expected. Born three and half months premature, he weighed less than two pounds. Nineteen years later, Lafon is a now a competitive shot putter and has an athletic scholarship to one of the most acclaimed universities in the country. Just last month, he won the F33 Shot Put National Championship.

Lafon, who has cerebral palsy and has been a wheelchair user since age five has had a love of sports and competition his entire life. He began participating in adapted sports, including wheelchair basketball, at the age of six.

As a Lakeshore member, he has access to adapted sports equipment and as well as coaching and sports science. Over the years, Lafon has honed his skills in both team and individual events and garnered national attention as well as scholarship funds for his athletic accomplishments. Lafon currently attends the University of Illinois competing in track and field events and playing wheelchair basketball while on an academic path that will allow him to specialize in sports and recreation management upon graduation.

“My goal is to make a U.S. team. Lakeshore has given me that because they believe in me; they know I can do it. They’ve invested in me by supporting my training and helping fund my travel expenses, which makes it possible for me to compete around the country,” Lafon says appreciatively.

In fact, many individuals who get active at Lakeshore may be uncertain of their athletic potential. “With the slight rule modifications afforded in adapted sport, such as two bounces in wheelchair tennis, athletes are able to realize their full potential both on and off the court.  The benefits of sports participation are the same whether the athlete happens to sit or stand. Similar to Collin, many of our athletes are able to garner athletic scholarships at school such as the University of Alabama,” Lakeshore’s Athletics Director, Lisa Hilborn points out.

“The power of sport to pull people into an environment where they weren’t sure they’d belong can be impactful on a broad scale.” Click here to view Lakeshore’s Athletic programs.

For Lafon, being able to come home to Lakeshore during the summer allows him to maintain his fitness and continue improving his game during the time he’s away from his collegiate training facility. “In addition to the gym and the support staff, there’s a therapy pool that helps me with mobility,” he says.

“And I can participate in research opportunities through the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative, like the adapted video gaming study and advanced technology that helps track activity.” To learn more about our current Research studies at lakeshore click here.

Lafon points out that Lakeshore not only provides resources for its members to live healthier lifestyles, it also advocates and innovates for people with disabilities as a whole:

“You can come to Lakeshore to stay active, you can find your community through a recreation program, or you can participate in a quality of life study that will help both you and those who come after you.”

Lakeshore has embraced the opportunity to advocate on both a local and national level with our Advocacy programs. In addition to working with the Alabama High School Athletic Association to provide technical tactical expertise for coaches and help set standards for athletes with disabilities in the public-school system, Lakeshore also functions as a training site, working with the U.S. Olympic Committee to represent athletes and host events.

“Advocacy though adapted sport is a key component of Lakeshore’s mission. Exposure followed by pointed education have proven to be effective means to heightening ability awareness levels,” says Hilborn. “There’s so much opportunity for adapted sport. Watch one game of wheelchair rugby, which is as aggressive and in-your-face as the stand-up version, you will throw the mindset of ‘you can’t’ right out the door.”

Currently, Lakeshore has 13 athletic teams that compete in a wide range of individual and team competitions, from six-year-old athletes who are just starting out to adults who have qualified for the Paralympic Games. “So, a child participating on an athletic team at Lakeshore today can witness athletes compete at the top rung of the game, given that we are an Olympic and Paralympic Training Site.” says Hilborn. “They can set their sights on what sports can do for them on a collegiate level.” Athletic options at Lakeshore range from team wheelchair sports—like basketball and rugby, to individual competitions and finesse sports—like tennis, swimming and cycling.

Says Hilborn, “No matter what your physical disability, there is a team of experts who love to foster independence and self-reliance though sport.” View our upcoming summer athletic activities here.