Morrisville, NC, February 25, 2013: In 2010 Triangle Volleyball Club met a very special individual; someone who would inspire Triangle to set a whole new course for service. At that time Heather Erickson was the youngest member of the USAV Women’s Sitting Volleyball team and was living just one hour away in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Heather is an enthusiastic person eager to serve her sport by spreading awareness of adaptive volleyball to those with physical differences. Through Heather we began our partnership with Bridge II Sport, a non-profit organization focused on promoting adaptive sports and connecting athletes with physical differences with athletic opportunities. The Triangle community embraced her desire to make a difference in the lives of those seeking adaptive sports opportunities.
The partnership led to Triangle’s designation as a Paralympic Sport Club; regularly hosting sitting volleyball open play and sitting volleyball tournaments. In 2012 Triangle presented its first ‘Volleyball for All’ initiative at the MAPL Raleigh junior girls’ volleyball tournament which Triangle hosts each year at the Raleigh Convention Center [RCC]. ‘Volleyball for All’ is the umbrella for all service initiatives that bring volleyball to those with limited or no access to sport and is led by Triangle’s Assistant Director, Jenna Hinton. In 2012 the focus was two-fold; sitting volleyball specifically and adaptive sports in general. MAPL Raleigh was transformed into an adaptive sport expo with workshops and exhibits focused on adaptive sport equipment and programs. Sitting volleyball was especially promoted as the RCC became the site of multiple exhibition matches between the Women’s Sitting teams from the United States and the Netherlands. The pre-Olympic exhibition matches were a highlight, taking center court at the RCC with play-by-play announced by John Kessel, Director of Sport Development, USA Volleyball. Every match saw multitudes of fans surrounding the court and supporting the athletes. There were many touching moments during the visit of Team USA and Team Netherland including the coaching staff of Team Netherland leading a practice with Triangle’s 12&under teams. Other activities during the weekend included a youth clinic at local area schools with John Kessel and Triangle staff.
In spring 2012, Jenna directed the sitting volleyball station at the spring ‘Sports Consortium’ hosted by Bridge II Sport at a local high school. Participating in the clinic was a young player suffering from a permanent spinal cord injury. The adaptation of sitting on the floor to play volleyball was not sufficient to allow her to play without her mother sitting behind her, back-to-back, supporting her as she played. Unable to move freely, she was anchored to the court and lacked the support or strength to play independently. It was clear; an engineered solution would be needed to allow individuals with spinal cord injuries access to volleyball. Benefiting from a prior collaboration Bridge II Sport and Triangle jointly submitted a project proposal to Duke University as an opportunity for engineering students to meet their senior project design requirement. In fall 2012 the project was selected and work on a chair to assist athletes with spinal cord injuries entered the early design stage. The engineers on the design team attended a sitting volleyball session where they both observed and participated in play. As the Duke design team evaluated their prototype they were provided additional assistance from a participant in Triangle’s sitting volleyball program who agreed to serve as a test subject. The ‘Striker’ was unveiled in December 2012 at Triangle and is kept on site and made available to anyone participating in sitting volleyball programs and tournaments. The Striker is both safe and comfortable, and its clever design provides both support and independence. It was engineered to be adaptable to different types of physical conditions by providing more or less restriction and support. The patent process is currently being explored for the Striker sitting volleyball chair.
Triangle’s sitting volleyball outreach has captured local and national media attention. Most recently, Jenna was contacted by a local writer doing research on adaptive athletes. He plans to write a series of novels about young people dealing with physical disabilities and who find strength and confidence through their involvement in sports. As part of his research he will be visiting Triangle and observing our sitting volleyball sessions. Additionally, in June of 2012, Jenna visited Camp Lejeune with USA Volleyball staff. They presented sitting volleyball training to people from across the country responsible for operating recreation and/or wellness centers on military bases. Representatives from all over the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii were present.
Most recently, Bridge II Sport invited Triangle Volleyball Club to serve as the official liaison for volleyball at the inaugural ‘Valor Games’ to be hosted in the spring of 2013 in NC. The ‘Valor Games’ is a southeast regional event much like the ‘Wounded Warrior Games’. Triangle is responsible for providing the coaching and instruction for 10+ teams. These teams will include both standing and sitting volleyball players. The athletes themselves will present a range of disabilities including amputation(s), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], and Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI]. The ‘Games’ are considered to be part of their physical and mental recovery. In advance of the one-day tournament Triangle’s coaching staff will receive training on PTSD and TBI.
We anticipate the entirety of “Volleyball for All” and Triangle’s efforts to address those with physical differences will lead to Jenna serving as presenter at the Paralympic Sport Convention in Colorado Springs, CO in April of 2013. The proposed topic focuses on the benefits of a collaborative approach on a local and national level to addressing adaptive sports. Central to Jenna’s presentation will be Triangle’s connection to our local Paralympic sport club (Bridge II Sport), the “Volleyball for All” event at MAPL Raleigh with the help of USA volleyball, and the engineering design project work with Duke University on ‘the Striker’.