by  Sue Ann Rybak

Sports Meet participant Kelly Matthews hugs a friend. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

The Olympic Theme Song blared from speakers as participants in this year’s United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) Adult Sports Meet paraded onto the field Sept. 7 at UCP’s campus, 102 E. Mermaid Lane, wearing brightly colored, tie-dye T-shirts. There were cheers and high fives as teams assembled.

The ceremony opened with the National Anthem and then Lylian Melendez, director of weekend and evening programs at UCP, welcomed everyone to the 2012 UCP Sports Meet, UCP’s version of the Olympics.

She said this year’s sports meet coincided with the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games being held in London from Aug. 29 through Sept. 9.

“In the spirit of the Olympic games this summer, we decided to do a sports meet,” Melendez said. “The sports meet gives the participants the opportunity to challenge their disabilities and experience the joys of athletic competition among their peers.”

More than 100 clients competed in this year’s event, which featured wheelchair relay races, water relay races, water catapult games, target toss games and ramp bowling. While all the games are based on some Olympic event, they have been modified. For example, in the water relay race, players use a sprayer to push a ball down the “swim line” to the finish line.

“Depending on the client’s functional ability, we take an activity and tweak it so everybody has the opportunity to participate as independently as possible,” Melendez said.

The most popular event, according to Melendez, is bowling.
UCP even has its own bowling league. Domita Chellis, an avid bowler, bowls every week with the UCP league at Erie Lanes in Philadelphia.

Another favorite event was the water catapult. The water catapults were designed and built by Springside and Chestnut Hill Academy’s engineering class. The activities are constantly being adjusted to accommodate the clients’ abilities.
“This year, our target toss is a little different,” Mendez said. “Instead of using a bean bag, we decided to use dice because someone who may not physically be able to toss a bean bag might be able to flick a die off their leg.”

Beth Loving, adult services occupational therapist (OT) at UCP, said she was “excited” because the activities allowed clients to compete “independently with minimal staff assistance.”

“As an OT, I am always looking for ways that allow the person to function and participate to their fullest extent,” Loving said, adding that she loves working at UCP because she gets to “see people in their true environment versus the hospital environment.”

“I get to help them live their lives,” Loving said.

Several volunteers from the Vanguard investment management firm assisted with officiating at the various events and helped to prepare and serve a picnic lunch.
“It’s great to be able to help bring some excitement and joy to their lives,” said Matt Spencer, who has worked at Vanguard for 15 years.

Charmaine Hamilton, assistant director of programs at UCP, said clients love competing and being outside.

Susan Brooks, who works in the partial hospitalization (PH) program said the clients have been practicing games and decorating T-shirts for the event for weeks.

“The clients are so upbeat and positive today,” Brooks said.

“I love the games,” said Carolyn Morgan, a participant in the sports meet. “Every year they have it I look forward to it.”

Everyone seemed to be enjoying the games and the warm weather except first-time participant Dina Geer who said it was “too hot everywhere.” Geer added that she was looking forward to going out Friday night.

Where was she going?

“Anywhere with air conditioning,” said Geer with a big smile.