BORP scores a goal — making sports accessible to physically disabled athletes

When the pandemic hit, the nonprofit adapted, and ended up serving four times as many people with online classes and outdoor recreation.

Sled Hockey athletes in their team uniforms and holding their hockey sticks take to the ice, ready for a game. Credit: Scott Goodman

This story is brought to you by the Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (BORP).

Basketball, hockey, soccer, hiking, and cycling.  These are some of the sports and activities for people in wheelchairs and with vision impairments offered by the Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (BORP), which is based in Berkeley and funded with donations.

In this challenging pandemic era, not only has the sports organization survived, it has thrived.

When Covid hit, the staff at BORP realized the impact on people with disabilities would be particularly hard. Not only were they more vulnerable to the virus, but they are also more likely to face isolation and lack resources to address their physical and mental health needs. 

The non-profit was able to pivot quickly.  The adaptive cycling center was reopened after a new reservation system was added to maintain social distancing. At Aquatic Park, BORP added a new adaptive kayaking program.   

A kayaker rows in an adaptive kayak on the lake at Aquatic Park. Credit: Misako Akimoto

Of course, Zoom played a role, too. Now BORP offers seven online classes each week: Sit Fit, Seated Tai Chi, Chair Yoga, Strength Training, Mindful Movement, and two seated Cardio Dance classes. 

And a funny thing happened: Attendance quadrupled. Over 1,000 people have taken BORP’s classes over the last 18 months. 

“By going virtual, we eliminated the transportation barrier and made the classes more accessible. Now we’re getting attendees from all over the world,” said Rick Smith, BORP Director.

Participants report that their fitness, strength, and range of movement have increased, and their mental health has improved. In fact, classes have evolved into vibrant, supportive communities, where newcomers are welcomed and new friendships have been made, with participants meeting outside of classes. 

“Thanks to BORP’s timely action, I’ve been exercising more than ever in my life. A year later, I find myself 20 pounds lighter with many new friends who I see (virtually) almost daily. I will forever be grateful to BORP for creating this silver lining in such a difficult situation,” said Doreen, a regular BORP participant.

From basketball to birding, a wide program

The organization, started in 1976, offers one of the most extensive adaptive sports and recreation programs to be found anywhere in the country. BORP serves individuals of all ages through the delivery of adaptive sports, recreation and fitness activities. These include adaptive cycling, team sports (featuring wheelchair basketball, goalball for individuals with vision impairments, sled hockey, power-wheelchair soccer), adaptive fitness classes, and an adventures & outings program.  Most recently BORP added adaptive climbing, kayaking, and birding.  

Two goalball athletes stretch across the floor to block the ball in front of the net and prevent a goal. Credit: Scot Goodman/BORP

As 2021 comes to a close, BORP participants, board, and staff are celebrating the return to play and resumption of all core programs. 

Last June, the youth basketball program started playing on outdoor courts, and in October, the adult basketball and goalball teams were able to get back on the court, thanks to the Berkeley Adult School. 

“We’re almost completely back,” said Smith, the executive director. “In fact, last week, our youth wheelchair basketball team traveled to Phoenix to play in their first tournament since early 2020. Unfortunately, our home court at James Kenney Recreation Center in West Berkeley is still closed, but we’re optimistic the Center will be opening in early January.”   

When James Kenney opens, BORP’s power soccer teams, the Shockers and Bombers, will be able to play again after a long 19-month pause.  Usually, all of BORP’s teams practice weekly and play in regular tournaments.

“Slowly but surely, we’re getting back to our full program menu, but it’s been a long haul for our participants,” Smith said. “Fortunately, our participants are skilled in resilience and adaptation, traits they’ve learned as they navigate their world.”  

BORP, like its participants, has proven to be resilient and adaptive, ready for a complete “return to play” in the New Year.

 “For me and thousands of others, this organization and its programs have been a game changer and I feel incredibly fortunate to have found BORP and to be a part of this empowering community,” says Brandon Young, BORP Athletic Director.  Hear from some other BORP athletes here.

Teams & classes funded by donations

Reflecting on the past year and all that was accomplished Smith said,  “All of these efforts have been possible because of the generous support of thousands of donors, and we are truly grateful for this support.  We hope our current year-end campaign will be a big success so we can continue all our programs in 2022.”  To make a donation go to www.borp.org

This story was written and paid for by Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program. BORP is a 501(c)3 non-profit working to improve the health, independence and social integration of people with physical disabilities through sports, fitness and recreation programs.