Soccer season reminds me of how adaptive sports shaped my life

Adaptive sports can be a gateway to living a more empowered life

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by Alyssa Silva |

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If you’re a soccer fan like me, I imagine you’re thriving at this time of the year. Because I grew up in a proud Portuguese family, the sport is a huge part of my culture. If I didn’t know better, I’d even go so far as to say that loving soccer is ingrained in my DNA.

Needless to say, between Copa América and Euro 2024, I’ve been spending my days watching more soccer than ever before.

Cheering on my beloved teams USA and Portugal has brought me back to a time when I played adaptive soccer as a kid. Living with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) made participating in regular youth sports impossible for me. I lacked the physical strength to kick a ball or swing a baseball bat. My wheelchair could never keep up with the pace of my peers who were running.

I also needed a caregiver with me at all times. However, that didn’t stop me from wanting to be a part of the action.

At home, though, the neighborhood kids and I made our own rules so that I could play. Once we’d decide on a sport, we’d find creative ways to include me in whatever we were playing. That’s how I developed a love for soccer. I also loved that I was able to play with my peers and not feel excluded.

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So, when I turned 7, my parents signed me up for an adaptive soccer league in town. The league was for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, and we’d play every week. Each player had a buddy to assist them on the field and meet their needs.

I played goalie. My buddy would let me block the ball whenever someone tried to score. Then, she’d kick it back out for me. Not to brag, but we made an unstoppable team.

In the end, I decided to play for only one year. The kids in my league were of all ages, and some were a lot bigger and stronger than I was. After a few close hits to my head, my parents and I thought it was safer to play in the comfort of my own neighborhood.

Despite my short stint, I enjoyed participating in a sport for the first time. I didn’t realize it then, but I know now that the world wasn’t designed with disabilities in mind. Throughout my life with SMA, I’ve had to adapt to an environment that didn’t accommodate my needs. I’ve had to find innovative ways to set myself up for success. I’ve had to get creative to break down barriers.

Playing adaptive soccer opened my world to the art of adaptability. As an adult, I cherish the experiences I had during those games. I see now that it was more than a game; it was a gateway to living a more empowered life, with the knowledge that I could overcome unique circumstances like playing sports. It gave me an opportunity to showcase what I’m still capable of with this debilitating disease, and it created the foundation on which I would learn to thrive.

With the challenges and obstacles that SMA brings, it’s easy to feel sidelined in life. It’s easy to feel as though I don’t belong or deserve to have the same opportunities as my peers. But with a little creativity and a willingness to adapt, I can still play the game.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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