The Endeavor Games came back to the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), Edmond, for another record-breaking year from June 11-14. More than 400 athletes, including world-class elites and people participating in adaptive sports for the first time, convened on the campus for training, competition, and perhaps most importantly, cameraderie.
“There is a sense of family when you come here,” says Leigha Joiner, Endeavor Games event organizer. “You come here to see friends that you haven’t seen in a year and to have fun and enjoy the community of the sport.”
Several hundred volunteers came together to hold competitions in events including track and field, powerlifting, table tennis, swimming, indoor and outdoor archery, shooting, and wheelchair basketball. The major new events of the year were sitting volleyball and cycling, the latter including events for upright cycles, handcycles, and tandem cycles for blind riders.
Training clinics and workshops covered most of the major events, plus wheelchair yoga and strengthening and conditioning. Athletes from any background were welcome in the various clinics, meaning that new athletes had a wide range of options, and more experienced athletes could both hone current skills and try new events.
“The clinics were originally started as a partnership with U.S. Paralympics,” Joiner said. “We do them because we want everybody who wants to learn to come…. We give people the opportunity to learn an event and then compete in it, and with our mix of elite athletes and brand-new athletes, people can get mentoring from their heroes.”
T.J. Pemberton is a professional archer who lives and trains at the U.S. Paralympic Center at UCO. Though he has a mobility disability that requires that he wear a custom leg brace to stand in competition, he has risen to the ranking of 17th in the United States-among able-bodied competitors. As a competitor in and coordinator for the Endeavor Games archery programs, he saw firsthand how the Games benefit elite and beginning athletes.
“I think one of the most important things about the Endeavor Games is that they help new athletes, newly injured persons, military personnel, and people who have not been exposed to sport for persons with disabilities to try new sports…. It gives them the chance to see at the grassroots level what it would take to compete at higher levels. Beginners see intermediates and a lot of the time they get to meet some of the elite Paralympic athletes.”
The Games have become a major attraction for the community of athletes with disabilities, despite the unsteady economy. Joiner asserts that the Games’ growth-including an approximately 25 percent increase in athlete attendance over the 2008 Games-says a lot about the benefits that athletes and their families gain from the event. Plans are already in the works to expand the Games further for 2010.
“We’re thinking of lots of fun things for next year,” Joiner said. “Having our first year of cycling competition was extremely exciting and so much fun, and next year cycling is going to bring our biggest addition. We’re looking at doing a 20k cycle race, and that’s going to be huge for us because this year’s race-our first one-was a 4k.”
Competitions of that scale require far more volunteer support than smaller events and will challenge participating athletes to greater training efforts in the months ahead. However, Joiner contended that the Games will always have room for the full range of competitors. “Our age range this year was 4 to 67,” she said. “We include everybody. You’re never too old or too young to have fun or to come to the Endeavor Games.”