Exercise seems like such a simple concept. A quick run, a game of pickup basketball or even just a walk around the block seem like such easy things to do, but it’s not quite that simple for many.
Loma Linda couple Todd and Christie Jenkins want people to know that everyone needs exercise, and that includes the disabled. Their son Nicholas has Spina Bifida, leaving him with very limited use of his legs. It might be easy to look at someone like Nicholas and not even think about exercise, but the truth is that Nicholas, just like everyone else, needs exercise to stay healthy.
Not only exercise, but he needed fun as well.
A few years ago, Todd, Christie and Nicholas started Southern California’s first sled hockey program. In only a few short years, they watched this program grow from a new activity to a full Paralympic Sport Club sponsored by the Los Angeles Kings.
In the process, they also grew into a family of advocates.
"Kids with disabilities don’t often get as much exercise as they should," Todd said. "They’re unable to participate even in P.E. in school at the same level as other kids…It was the first opportunity he had ever had to do anything like that and it just really opened up a whole new world for him."
For years, Todd and Christie had searched for an adaptive sports program. They wanted Nicholas to be healthy and fit despite his limited capabilities and they wanted him to have the same experience and learn the same lessons that other kids learn through sports: Strategy, rules and being part of a team.
But they found a lack of programs in the Inland Empire. They had taken Nicholas to a few wheelchair basketball clinics but they were few and far between, and the only league nearby was for adults. Finally, some family friends in Michigan suggested sled hockey.
"We both thought it looked like a really cool sport and that he should give it a try," Todd said. "We started calling around rinks in Southern California to see who had a program and it turns out that most people had never even heard of the sport before."
The Jenkins’ took matters into their own hands and worked with U.S.A. Hockey to stage a clinic. About 40 people showed up, and that crowd doubled the following year when they staged another clinic.
"The first thing that struck us was that he had a lot of fun," Todd said. "And for an 8-year-old kid, at the time, who has never been able to do much in the way of sports and activities before, being able to see him get out there and do something that involves some good exercise and being able to not only play with kids that have his same type of disability but also, they’re all at the same level, it was just a blast for him."
Seeing the way other kids responded and the bonds that they all formed, the Jenkins’ knew they needed to start a program.
@BaileyLAKings Thank you Bailey for supporting the Paralympics. LA Kings Sled Hockey is a Paralympic Sport Club. #FunFact
Todd’s job as a freelance writer and a substitute teacher allowed him the flexibility to get the program off the ground. He headed up fundraisers, secured donations of money and equipment as well as secured a rink – LA Kings Icetown in Riverside – and sponsorship from the Ontario Reign.
It was not easy – starting a business never is – but it was rewarding.
"A lot of people responded that this was the most fun they had ever had and that they learned things about their bodies that they never knew," Todd said. "We have one young lady in her early 30s and has always used an electric wheelchair. She started off in our program using a pusher chair, a pusher behind her helping her to move on the ice. And within about four months, she got to the point where she could start using the stick on her own and moving her sled on her own without a pusher. This was a tremendous change in her life. She had never been able to anything like that in her life before.
"That moment that night made us see the real potential that this sport has to change lives."
In addition, the program as a whole is expanding. Bakersfield and Oxnard have started teams and they are eyeing San Diego next.
Thanks to the Jenkins and the LA Kings, kids all over Southern California aren’t lacking in opportunities to be a part of a team and get healthy and fit – simple things that many may have never thought possible.