UCO Endeavor Games

Ever struggle to make the school sports team? Imagine you are playing a game of basketball while sitting down or running track with your eyes closed. These are just some of the amazing things happening at the UCO Endeavor Games for disabled athletes.

The words, "Adversity: Some break…Others break records," written by William A. Ward, author and motivational speaker, are printed on the cover of the 2007 athlete registration guide for the Eighth Annual University of Central Oklahoma Endeavor Games for Athletes with Physical Disabilities being held June 7-10.

Katrina Shaklee, assistant director for UCO Disabled Sports and Events, and Robbie Robertson, an advertising agency owner, previously worked together on the Sooner State Games. The two are co-founders of the UCO Endeavor Games. Shaklee had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and developed a passion for helping people with disabilities.

The UCO Endeavor Games were created in 2000 to meet the need for a multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities. The organization recruits amputees, individuals in wheelchairs, those with spinal cord injuries, spine bifida, blindness, dwarfism and cerebral palsy and more. The games are open to all disabled athletes, regardless of age or ability.

The Disabled Sports & Events is a division of the Wellness Center on the UCO campus. In 2004, UCO absorbed The Sports Group, a nonprofit organization created in 2000 to provide quality sports programs to disabled athletes from Oklahoma and beyond.

Athletes compete in ten sports, including archery, junior and adult 3-on-3-wheelchair basketball, boccia, powerlifting, shooting, softball, swimming, tennis, table tennis, as well as track and field. Athletes travel to UCO from all over the U.S. as well as other countries. In the past, countries represented were Australia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Germany. Athletes are awarded Olympic-style gold, silver and bronze medals for first, second and third place in each event.

For the first time this year, the UCO Disabled Sports & Events now offer training clinics, presented by U.S. Paralympics, to help athletes gear up for the Endeavor Games. The Paralympics is an event for elite athletes with physical disabilities. Like the Olympics, the Paralympic Games occur every four years, two weeks after the Olympics and in the same city. Next year, the event will be held in Beijing, China.

UCO training clinics are opportunities for athletes to hone in their skills or find unexpected talents. Shaklee points to a black and white photo in the 2007 athlete registration guide of a determined, blond-haired boy with an archery bow in his mouth.

"He went to the archery clinic and couldn't use his arms, so they had him hold it in his mouth. He was very good," said Shaklee, adding that the Paralympics coach thought it was a great opportunity for her to recruit as well. "She's stayed in contact with him throughout the years. Hopefully, he'll be on a Paralympic team one day."

Another athlete who has achieved much success is a female volleyball player who came to the Endeavor games, having never heard of disabled sports. Two years after first competing in the games, she was on the women's volleyball team that won a bronze medal at the Paralympic Games in Athens.

"For us to see that is pretty amazing," said Shaklee. "The key for us is to find those kids who don't know about this opportunity-to educate them and their parents that their kids can do anything they want, just in a different way."

The Endeavor Games help sponsor military members who have been injured in war. Disabled Sports USA, a national nonprofit organization established in 1967 by disabled Vietnam veterans in order to serve war injured athletes, partners with Endeavor Games so that costs for the veterans are totally paid for by the organizations.

Most of the injured military members that Endeavor Games supports are amputees. "For them it's just an opportunity to get back into the world and try out sports with their disability. To get an understanding that their life isn't over, it's just going to be different," explained Shaklee.

The Endeavor Games also work with the U.S Paralympics on the VP3 or Veterans Paralympics Performance Program by treating soldiers as if they were Paralympics athletes if they show potential in a certain sport.

"They're actually skipping a few steps. We had the first [athlete] in the nation to become a part of that program-James Stuck, who moved here to begin training for the men's volleyball team," said Shaklee.

In December 2005, Stuck, an Army corporal at the time of his injury, lost the lower half of his right let when a bomb blew off the front of the security vehicle he was driving in Kirkuk, Iraq.

The Endeavor Games, recently named a centennial event, is adding a new presenting sponsor to the Opening Ceremony this year. The Chickasaw Nation dancers will be performing at the Hamilton field house June 7 as a special treat for spectators and athletes alike, giving a unique taste of Oklahoma culture.

"We get athletes from twenty-nine states so that will really raise the awareness of Oklahoma as well," said Shaklee.

For Shaklee, working for the Endeavor Games is a gratifying experience. "Every weekend after the games end you are so exhausted, but you have such a feeling of fulfillment that you've accomplished this and that you've sent athletes home happy. We've impacted a lot of people's lives and that's a really good feeling."

For more information on this event or to volunteer, contact Shelly Ramsey, event coordinator at 974-3151.

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