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Rolling Over Differences How an after school sports program brings children with and without disabilities together.

Thousands of individuals live everyday with physical and mental disabilities that make even simple tasks an uphill battle. As a society, a common perception is that these people are unable to care for themselves or do not possess the same attributes as able bodied people. One man looking to challenge that stigma is Cameron Levis.

Cameron Levis is a Special Populations Instructor for Bowling Green, Kentucky Parks and Recreation Center. “Obviously we want to impact the individuals with a disability and let them have these opportunities, but ultimately, what I hope, is to change views on what disability means,” said Levis.

In his programs, he offers a slew of different sports designed to get people with disabilities and able bodied people on the same playing field. He facilitates and monitors events like open wheelchair basketball, where anyone can come, play, and see what it’s like for some of the participants who are bound to wheelchairs. Furthermore, Levi’s programs also give people with disabilities an arena to compete in. “Everybody’s kinda got that competitive edge inside of them.The desire to pursue a competition and achieve a goal, set it and achieve it and kind of reach that mountain... With adaptive sports, I think that’s a huge thing, to give them an opportunity to kind of reach that pinnacle, to be an athlete," said Levis.

While Levis’ work revolves around athletics, he believes the Kummer Little Recreation Center offers much more than sporting activities. “I think naturally Parks and Recreation creates that (social community) for people. It creates a social community for them to be a part of, which is all part of enhancing quality of life and giving people better experiences. Better ways to live in their communities. So in a sense it’s just like, being there for people,” said Levis.

Levis plan to help enrich the lives of those with disabilities started from a young age and personal place. His mother has run Louisville Metro Parks Adaptive Sports Program for the last 30 years, so Levis was consistently around people with disabilities from a young age.

“As a toddler, I used to be rocked to sleep by wheelchair users. And so as I grew up, being around people with disabilities was something I thought was normal. I pursued friendships and those relationships because I did not see what society typically sees," said Levis.

While attending Western Kentucky University and trying to decide on what to do for his career, Levis drew inspiration and drive from those who helped him in his adolescence. “They made a huge impact on me and I wanted other people to experience that. So, finding ways to help them experience that was kind of my mission," said Levis.

Levis teaches Recreation classes at Western Kentucky University as a graduate student. One of his students, Madison Duncan (center), initially met Cameron through a mutual friend and he helped her with adaptive shot-put. “Theres not as many opportunities as there are for able bodied people... I love doing all the sports. It’s a different way to get exercise while also helping the people in Bowling Green see that people with disabilities aren’t so different,” said Duncan.

While the program in itself is young, the motives behind it have been with Levis almost his whole life. “My parents got divorced when I was eight, so it was just me and my mom. So, you know, I was either going to be that little pest kid that ran around and didn’t want to take hold of it and see the great things that she was doing. Or, I could see the great things that she was doing, learn from it, and then one day try to do the same thing," said Levis.

“Im trying to educate people without (disabilities), and show they’re not so different. I mean if you don’t know you don’t know, but I always like to say 'don’t settle for that,' If you don’t know how to interact with a person with a disability, try to learn, ask. And so I like providing those opportunities to expose them,” said Levis.

Credits:

Zane Meyer-Thornton