More than baseball: ACCESS of Wilmington offering takes aim at helping disabled veterans

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WILMINGTON – With excitement building toward opening day, marking the eighth season of providing children and adults with disabilities a chance to enjoy the tradition of baseball through the Miracle Field, ACCESS of Wilmington is hitting its stride.

Providing over 150 players an opportunity to play America’s pastime with the hard work of many dedicated “buddies,” the Miracle League begins an eight-week season with first-pitch at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 4.

ACCESS of Wilmington unveiled the new Brax Stadium archway in July 2013 at Olsen Park.
ACCESS of Wilmington unveiled the new Brax Stadium archway in July 2013 at Olsen Park.

Between 200-500 volunteers help make the Miracle League possible, ranging from members of The Rotary Club of Downtown, UNC-Wilmington Athletics, private businesses and members of the general public.

As part of opening day festivities on March 4, Miracle League of Wilmington will for the first time play a game beginning at 11 a.m., using its beep ball and bases, allowing two young boys who have visual impairments a chance to take the field.

Since its inception, Miracle League of Wilmington has received a warm welcome by the local community. Whether it be the partnering with Cameron Art Museum to create an inclusive event for children to play and make art, or Topsail High School senior Kenzie Hansley raising over $10K through her Miracle League Bomb Squad Home Run Derby over the last three years, the Miracle League has truly become a spot to give those with disabilities a place to stay active, form friendships and enjoy the moments of true camaraderie.

In addition to being able to donate to the non-profit organization at any time, ACCESS of Wilmington has been hard at work building its reputation as a hub for improving the health and wellness of those with disabilities.

“When the Miracle Field was built we knew we wanted it to be more than just baseball,” said ACCESS of Wilmington Executive Director Jennifer Bell. “As part of a sort of re-branding, we’ve extended our recruiting to give people more access. Over the past year or so we’ve launched a seasonal exercise program for adults.

“We’ve also recently started an adaptive sports program for veterans with disabilities in southeastern North Carolina,” she said.

G.A.M.E.S, which stands for group, activity, movement, exercise and sports, hosts a twice-a-week, one-hour session on Tuesdays and Thursdays featuring cardiovascular workouts, weight training and yoga. Currently, 32 adults with disabilities participate in the fitness program thanks to the efforts of ACCESS of Wilmington and its partners: UNCW College of Health and Human Sciences, The Landfall Foundation and Cape Fear Memorial Foundation.

In conjunction with its offerings geared towards veterans, ACCESS of Wilmington received a $75K federal grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to get its latest endeavor off the ground. Featuring archery, hand cycling, ice curling, kayaking, surfing and scuba diving, ACCESS has beefed up its efforts to get the word out.

“Project SOAR (Sports, Outreach, Adapted Recreation) is an adapted sport program for disabled veterans and members of the Armed Forces with disabilities,” Bell said. “We’re really trying to make people aware of all that we do. Our focus is to change the way our participants view their own health.

“We’re trying to fill a void in the region. We want to be able to provide as much as possible,” Bell said.

Project SOAR is reaching out to disabled veterans in the area in partnership with UNC-Wilmington.
Project SOAR is reaching out to disabled veterans in the area in partnership with UNC-Wilmington.

As part of annual fundraising efforts, ACCESS of Wilmington will be hosting its Fourth Annual Miracles in Motion 5K and One-Mile Run/Walk and Roll for people with and without disabilities.

For details and registration information regarding the Fourth Annual Miracles in Motion event scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, log onto www.its-go-time.com/miracles-in-motion.

“This is the original universally accessible race in Wilmington where you can find racers using wheelchairs and walkers rolling alongside long-distance runners,” Bell added. “New Hanover Regional Medical Center is our title sponsor and we expect this year to be our biggest race yet.

“It is a true celebration of all abilities. The atmosphere is electric and all racers cross the finish line on home plate of The Miracle Field.”

Baseball fans and supporters of the Miracle League should also mark the calendar for Saturday, April 29. UNC-Wilmington Baseball will hold its annual Miracle League of Wilmington Day at Brooks Field during the Seahawks contest against University of Delaware.  The baseball program will auction game-worn jerseys during the game, with proceeds benefiting the organization.