Meet Riley Phelps
A single look at Riley Phelps’ activity schedule is exhausting. Whether she’s hitting the slopes in Mammoth with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (with brother Evan snowboarding by her side), surfing the waves in La Jolla, or cheering on the Chieftains as part of the Clairemont High School Cheer Team, you can bet she is not idle.
Riley’s mom, Cheryl, doesn’t consider afterschool programs to be exclusively for typical kids, so when cheer tryouts came around, Riley just rolled on in. Next thing you know, she was cheering at home games as a member of the varsity squad. Riley practices with a 1:1 aide after school, who also helps her perform parts in high school plays. Without Riley’s extracurricular endeavors, she was often seen as the little blonde girl in the purple wheelchair.
“We constantly hear, ‘I didn’t know she can do that,’” says Cheryl. “It increases awareness of Riley’s abilities.”
Riley’s dad Drew, an avid outdoorsman, connects with both kids through surfing and skiing, which also keep the family in top physical shape. “Riley maintains a vast social network online until she can rekindle those relationships at events,” says Drew. “Every organization brings new friends. We get to know the parents and Evan gets to know the siblings.” Families connect through various programs to build a network of support for their athletes.
Riley’s parents decided early on that in order for both kids to enjoy the best of San Diego, they were going to need the right equipment. Riley is one of many kids supported by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), which provides grants for adaptive sports equipment, including her big-wheeled beach chair, adaptive surfboard and a special three-wheeled bicycle. Riley and Evan regularly participate in fun runs for CAF and fundraisers that provide equipment for Riley and other athletes to participate in sports programs in San Diego County.
Meet Angelo “Tigershark”
Ten-year-old Angelo “Tigershark” Sanchez is an off-road beast who nabbed a national record in the 1,500-meter race in his everyday chair. He is one of only two pediatric wheelchair athletes to compete in the Spartan Kid Races: tough, muddy obstacle competitions that challenge kids to use every muscle to complete them. He has finished three and earned the coveted Trifecta. Angelo has benefitted from grants from Challenged Athletes Foundation and Kelly Brush Foundation — both helped provide specialized equipment so he could compete.
The nickname Tigershark emerged after Angelo insisted he felt just as much at home in the water (shark) as on land (tiger). The Life Rolls On and Stoked for Life Foundations have provided ample opportunities for Angelo to surf and raise awareness since age 2.
Angelo competes in nine land and water sports, but he’s not all brawn — he also choreographs and performs graceful dance routines with his sister Gracie. They perform with the Wheelchair Dancer Organization and in school assemblies that raise inclusion awareness, which their dad Mike helps organize. In these events, students learn about disabilities and participate in an all-abilities flash mob. In Mike’s “Wheelchair for a Day” events, typical students are encouraged to try out a chair and brave a simple wheelchair obstacle course.
With his sights set on the Paralympic Games, there is nothing holding Angelo back. At age 4 he told his parents, “When someone says I’m too little or I don’t look that strong, or I hear people whisper, ‘How will he complete this? He’s in a wheelchair!’ it makes me want to show them that I can do it.” Angelo’s “just watch me” attitude fuels motivation. He never quits or lets perceived limitations get in the way
Meet Michelle Bautista
Michelle Bautista, our cover girl on the 2014 issue of Flourishing Families, is killing it on the courts. Her Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association (ASRA) wheelchair basketball team, San Diego Hammer, went to nationals last year and expects to move forward from regionals again this year. Michelle, a freshman at Valhalla High School, has been a member of ASRA’s basketball program for 10 years. As a small forward, her job is just as much defense as it is offense. A wheelchair team has five players on the court. Michelle must drive and guard the ball, shoot from long distances, and defend and steal the ball as the other team drives.
Michelle’s experience has enhanced her social game as she builds connections with other teams and national coaches, most notably at the University of Arizona’s summer basketball camp. The women’s team coach introduced Michelle to collegiate level play to prepare for that next big step, as team participation really helps with the social aspect of transitioning to college.
Michelle’s participation in sports not only maintains a balance of physical and mental health, it also helps teach others that every sport is for everyone, regardless of ability.
Flourishing Families is committed to maintaining an ever-growing list of recreational opportunities for students with physical challenges, as well as intellectual and developmental delay. Visit the Recreation sections of Flourishing Families to discover programs: Find the San Diego listing here and the Imperial County listing here.
Emily Dolton is a local mom and resource parent.