Saturday, April 20, 2024

Rolling through adversity

Staff Writer | March 21, 2024 1:06 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Against a backdrop of hardship and adversity, individuals living with disabilities can tap into regional resources to help them defy limitations and compete in para-athletics.  

Resources like Parasport Spokane help light the pathway for people living with illness or disabilities.      

Parasport Spokane visited Lake City Academy on Wednesday afternoon to support fifth grader Rowan Blackwelder and raise awareness about para-athletics.

Blackwelder used that time to teach schoolmates the basics of using a wheelchair. He also lives with Friedreich's Ataxia, an inherited neurological disorder.

Tyler Blackwelder, Rowan’s dad, said symptoms first showed when Rowan was 6 years old.  

“We noticed he was having some trouble keeping his balance,” Tyler Blackwelder said. “Little did we know, he had developed a rare disease.”

Rowan’s father said he and his wife both carried the defective gene that causes Friedreich’s Ataxia, but didn’t know anything about it until the symptoms showed through Rowan.

“We had to go through a lot of medical and genetic testing,” Tyler Blackwelder said.

He also said Parasport Spokane and Lake City Academy have been incredibly supportive and helped his family get through a number of hardships.

Jonny Halversen, a physical education teacher at the academy, said he was excited to help organize the event.

“The kids know Rowan and know he’s in a chair, but they don’t really understand the hardships,” Halversen said. “It’s a whole paradigm shift in your head to try and think through someone else’s experience.”

“Students were able to get a brief glimpse into Rowan’s life through this,” he added.

Bob Hunt, a coach with Parasport Spokane, also plays for the Eastern Washington University wheelchair basketball team.

Hunt said the group holds these events to help educate students about different parasports, but there is more to the picture.

“Events like these really help people in wheelchairs build confidence with their peers,” Hunt said. “It actually changes the mindset and peers start viewing the individual as an athlete, not just someone in a wheelchair.”

Rowan Blackwelder said Hunt was his first coach when he started going to Parasport, and that mentorship has helped him gain confidence in everyday life.

Basketball is his favorite sport, and he has kept his passion for the court alive through the opportunities Parasport Spokane offers.

Rowan Blackwelder said helping the other students was a fun experience.

“Teaching the other students made me feel good about myself,” Rowan said. “I learned a little about being a leader as well.”

    Charlotte Cook practices dribbling a basketball while in a wheelchair at Lake City Academy Tuesday afternoon.
    Lake City Academy Principal Doug Zimmerman sits in a wheelchair and hones his shooting skills during a Parasport Spokane demonstration at Lake City Academy Tuesday afternoon.