Making Fort Wayne the adaptive sports capital of America
By Ali Brand | Input Fort Wayne
In 2019, delegations from up to 40 countries will travel to Fort Wayne to attend the largest international event ever held in the city.
Fort Wayne’s own Turnstone center for people with disabilities won the bid for the International Blind Sports Federation’s Goalball and Judo Paralympic Qualifying Competition.
Goalball is a team sport similar to soccer designed exclusively for athletes who are blind or visually impaired. It will be played at Turnstone’s world-class Plassman Athletic Center at 3320 N. Clinton St. and at Indiana Tech. Judo, an adaptation of Japanese martial arts for the blind, will take place at the Grand Wayne Convention Center downtown.
From June 28th to July 10th, an expected 400 to 500 athletes with visual impairments will visit Fort Wayne to compete for a chance to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Receiving this bid for the Paralympic Qualifiers is not the first time Turnstone has been recognized in the international community for its adaptive sports.
The U.S. Olympic Committee designated Turnstone as its 7th U.S. Paralympic Training Site for current and future Paralympic athletes. Turnstone is also the home of the U.S. Men’s and Women’s national goalball teams.
With such recognition, Turnstone and its partners aspire to make Fort Wayne the Adaptive Sports Capital of America.
Welcoming athletes of all abilities
To attract adaptive sports competitions, Turnstone works in partnership with Visit Fort Wayne, a nonprofit organization focused on the city’s economic development.
According to Visit Fort Wayne, the Summit City has been known in the region as a destination for youth sports with local facilities such as the Spiece Fieldhouse and SportOne Parkview Fieldhouse.
In 2014, Visit Fort Wayne conducted a study with the city to determine how to increase sports tourism. One recommendation from the study suggested that with Turnstone, Fort Wayne is in the position to fill a niche for an all-inclusive sports community.
Throughout its 75 years in operation, Turnstone has provided comprehensive services such as rehabilitation therapy, adult day services, memory care services, and more to people of all abilities and all ages.
According to Mike Mushett, CEO of Turnstone, during their last fiscal year the center serviced more than 3,600 individuals with unique disabilities.
When Turnstone expanded in 2015 with the Plassman Athletic Center, a 120,000-square-foot adaptive sports center and training facility, it was able to open its doors to athletes from all over the country and globe who want to compete in adaptive events.
Sports Planning Guide called it one of the top 10 best Adaptive Sports Facilities in the nation.
With Visit Fort Wayne as its marketing partner, Turnstone has won the bids in recent years to host regional and national competitions in adaptive sports such as goalball, power soccer, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair rugby.
According to totals reported by Visit Fort Wayne and Turnstone, during the last year, these events brought more than 4,000 visitors to the city with an economic impact of more than $1 million.
This year, Turnstone hosted Junior Nationals, its largest multi-sport competition to-date until the upcoming International Paralympic Qualifiers.
From July 22nd to July 27th, 220 athletes from 31 states came to Fort Wayne to compete in a paratriathlon, archery, powerlifting, swimming, table tennis, track and field, and shooting.
Junior Nationals covered multiple venues, not only Turnstone’s facilities, but Homestead High School, the Helen P. Brown Natatorium at South Side High School, and Indiana Tech. Five local athletes even set a combined 11 national records in discus distance, javelin distance, shot distance, breaststroke, freestyle, and long jump.
Mushett says the event was a success, in large part, thanks to more than 350 volunteers who committed more than 3,000 hours to hosting Junior Nationals alone.
“The willingness to volunteer in Fort Wayne is really special and allows us to bid on events like this,” Mushett says. “We would not be able to do these types of events without volunteer support.”
It takes a community
As Fort Wayne prepares to host major Paralympic sporting events and establish itself as the Adaptive Sports Capital of the nation, it’s going to take more than Turnstone to make it happen.
“When we bid on these events, it’s not just Turnstone; it’s the city of Fort Wayne,” Mushett says. “For events to be successful, the entire community needs to be engaged.”
To prepare for visiting athletes and their families coming to the city in 2019, Turnstone has conducted sensitivity training for Fort Wayne hospitality workers, such as hotel and restaurant staff, about how to accommodate visitors with disabilities.
The Center and other advocacy groups have also meet with civic leaders, developers, and architects about implementing universal, disability friendly designs into their plans for everything from new hotels to regional projects like Riverfront development.
“To be a leader in adaptive sports, we’re going to have to do more than the average, more than the minimum,” says Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne. “We don’t want just one extra-wide hotel room accessible for wheelchairs. We want 10. We have to go above the norm.”
The AWS Foundation, another local nonprofit, provides grants for projects that strive to make northeast Indiana accessible to individuals of all disabilities, whether physical or intellectual.
According Patti Hays, CEO of the AWS Foundation, they assisted the Riverfront development team in placing guides along the paths to define the sidewalk for visitors who are visually impaired. They have also partnered to make the Sweet Breeze canal boat fully accessible so tourists with wheelchairs can easily move from the dock to the boat and utilize the bathrooms onboard.
Dan O’Connell says, “We want to create a whole community that is geared toward helping people with disabilities to feel normal, to feel successful, to feel challenged, and enjoy sports competitions.”