For many people with disabilities, the idea of participating in sports is only a dream—but not if David Jones, founder of Florida Disabled Outdoors Association, has anything to say about it.
David—who has experience living with a traumatic brain injury sustained in a hunting accident—realized having a disability doesn’t prevent participation in recreation, although it can be limiting.
Twenty-nine years ago, David created a one-time event in partnership with Florida State University’s recreation department. Using the university’s Seminole Reservation facility at Lake Bradford, attendees participated in a sit-waterski clinic.
“About 30 people showed up and confirmed that we were on the right track to increase access to recreation and active leisure for people of all abilities,” David says. “The name SportsAbility came later, but from the beginning the idea has been the same.
“Each year, we added sports and activities, upped our marketing and promotion and expanded participation. Over the years, we’ve hosted SportsAbility in a variety of cities across the state, including Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Gainesville and Ocala. However, Tallahassee has been and continues to be our flagship.”
Tallahassee’s SportsAbility is each spring, this year from April 2-4. Admission is free for all three days. Opening ceremonies and Miracle Sports take place at Miracle Field at Messer Park April 2.
Also known as Miracle Sports Seminole Showdown, it’s the official kick-off for SportsAbility. It features a baseball game with Miracle Sport athletes and FSU athletes, plus food, music, FSU cheerleaders and the Seminole Sound band.
Day two showcases indoor sports such as archery, wheelchair basketball and tennis at Tallahassee Community College Lifetime Sports Complex. Attendees are encouraged to try out the sports, play the games and interact. A resource expo provides information and education.
April 4 is Family Fun Day, with outdoor sports at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park.
“Offering boat rides and horseback riding, plus scuba, sailing, biking and kayaking, Family Fun Day brings together more than 1,200 people to experience all kinds of outdoor recreation,” David says.
FDOA has joined with The Family Café in Orlando to bring sporting and leisure activities to the agency’s annual conference through the Family Café SportsAbility Sampler. This year’s 22nd annual Family Café is June 5-7 at the Orlando Hyatt Regency.
Nearly 13,000 people attended in 2019 to help connect people with disabilities and their families with resources, services and policy-making officials. It is also the Governor’s Summit on Disabilities, with breakout sessions and keynote speakers.
“The Annual Family Café is one of the largest cross-disabilities conferences in the Southeast,” David says. “FDOA brings the sports and recreation component to the event as we collaborate with The Family Café to spread our message of health and wellness. It is an amazing event.”
David says FDOA has grown to be more than an organization focused on serving people with disabilities.
“FDOA is about access and inclusion for people of all ages and abilities, and we want to emphasize that, particularly in our events such as SportsAbility,” David says. “Our goal is to help everyone enjoy recreation and an active leisure life. Our events, activities and resources are open to all.”