Sac State program helps individuals with disabilities reach new heights


Sacramento State student Olivia Kite, left, assisted by Conner Marotte and RPTA volunteer Ashley Leyva, right, while using a pulley system to help her climb up the rock walls at The WELL. (Photo by Rin Carbin)

Noah Alvarez

One of Sacramento State’s latest all-inclusive recreation programs is helping students of all abilities to challenge themselves in new ways.

In 2014, The WELL started a program called “All-In-Recreation” to provide Paralympic and adapted sports for individuals with disabilities to partake in campus recreation.

“You don’t have to worry about having a disability affecting (whether) you’ll be able to participate or not,” said Paul Polis, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. “These are sports initially designed for people with disabilities.”

The AIR program offers a variety of adaptive sports each semester such as wheelchair basketball, wheelchair foursquare, wheelchair volleyball, beep kickball, adaptive climbing and goalball.

Polis, who has overseen the program since August, assists students and trains other staff members at The WELL on how to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

“I want the individuals with disabilities to be able to participate in recreation as normal as any other student,” Polis said. “Recreation is a great way to relieve stress and I want to make sure that these opportunities are open to everyone.” (Story continues below)

Video by Rin Carbin

Sac State alumnus Cameron Phillips, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2016, was the first individual with disabilities to participate in the AIR wheelchair basketball program.

At the time, The WELL had only four wheelchairs available, which was enough for two-on-two basketball games or a chance to run some drills. Over the next year and a half, more wheelchairs were acquired and the program hosted weekly full-court games Friday afternoons.

“It was really awesome that they had that available because I loved playing basketball,” Phillips said. “A lot of the people who participated initially only came for class credit or volunteer hours, but some of them would continue coming even after their class or volunteer requirements were met.”

During his time at Sac State, Phillips spread the word of the AIR program in attempt to get more individuals with disabilities to participate in its activities.

“I think the program needs to be put in a bigger spotlight,” Phillips said. “I know personally a lot of people with disabilities are nervous coming out to something they’ve never done before — it takes a lot of courage to be missing a leg or have some other form of disability and go play with a group of people you don’t know.”

Junior child development major Olivia Kite said she has also benefitted from the AlR program in her first semester at Sac State. Kite, who was born with a connective tissue disorder, had attended physical therapy her whole life but never had the opportunity to go to a gym and exercise regularly.

“I have been coming (to The WELL) once or twice a week for three to four months now and I have been getting a little stronger,” Kite said. “I am really glad The WELL and (Polis) are here to help me — he makes exercising fun even though it hurts sometimes.”

Kite has also participated in the two adaptive climbing events (Feb. 1 and April 6) that The WELL has offered this semester, while also tracking her strength progression.

“The first time I did it, I was only able to get about four or five inches off the seat,” Kite said. “The second time I was able to get nine feet off the seat, which was awesome.”

Over the course of his tenure, Polis has used the AIR events to teach individuals with disabilities how to use exercise equipment and develop an exercise routine.

In addition to wheelchair basketball every Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the AIR program has two remaining events this semester — a wheelchair basketball tournament April 21-22 and beep kickball and softball April 27.

“It is a young program, but there’s amazing potential down the road,” Polis said. “We’re hoping our program grows and grows so we can start serving more and more people.”

Additional reporting by Rin Carbin