‘Wheels in Motion’ camp inspires confidence, keeps it fun

One second, the kids are doing arts and crafts. Then it’s time to pound on a huge conga drum. Seconds later, they’re dribbling a ball in the gym and encouraging a friend to try to tag them.

Wednesday morning, more than a dozen children who use wheelchairs were laughing and having fun during a weeklong “Wheels in Motion” adaptive teen camp, at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast D.C.

“They’re doing what kids should be doing, which is to have fun,” said Monique McSween, deputy director of D.C. Parks and Recreation.

The free camp, in partnership with MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, provides sports, arts and crafts, drama and music for kids with physical disabilities.

”This is great for their health and wellness, it’s great for their social development skills and wellbeing, but it’s also great for them just to be kids,” said McSween.

The leader of the camp is Joan Joyce, director of therapeutic recreation and community outreach with MedStar NRH.

”The goal is to introduce kids to wheelchair sports so that they learn at a very early age that they can still play like everybody else,” said Joyce.

“These kids come from all over — D.C., Virginia, Maryland — but in their schools, they may be the only kid in a wheelchair,” said Joyce. “Here, all of a sudden they’re seeing all these other kids who are also in wheelchairs.”

And the program — which serves kids 12 to 18 — is expanding to even younger children to build their confidence, Joyce said.

“If they’re 12 and nobody’s ever thrown a ball with them, they’re gonna be, ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I’m in a wheelchair,’” said Joyce. “But no, you can!”

The camp fundraises to buy dozens of lightweight, nimble sports chairs — each costing $4,000 — which the children use while at camp. For many, it’s their first experience with a sports chair.

”The joy of watching them the first time we take them out of that hospital chair, and we put them in one of these chairs, and they suddenly are moving, and spinning around,” Joyce said. “It’s amazing.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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