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A History of Adaptive Sports USA and the Junior Nationals

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A History of Adaptive Sports USA

Adaptive Sports USA has a long and storied history in providing competitive sports opportunities to individuals with physical disabilities

in the United States. Started in 1956 as the National Wheelchair Athletic Association, the early years of Adaptive Sports USA were success-

ful in large part due to the efforts of Benjamin Lipton, the Bulova Watch Company and the Bulova School of Watchmaking.  Mr. Lipton was the Executive Director of the Bulova School of Watchmaking and served

as the Chairman of NWAA for the first

25 years of its existence. The initial impetus to organize NWAA grew out

of the interests of athletes with physical disabilities - many of whom were veterans of World War II and

the Korean Conflict. They wanted to participate in sports other than

basketball, a sport that had seen rapid growth in the early 1950’s through teams sponsored by veterans hospitals and other rehabilitation agencies. General Omar N. Bradley was one of the leaders of the early efforts to develop wheelchair sports programs.


The NWAA played the lead role in Team USA becoming key players in the Stoke Mandeville Games movement, generally considered the precursor to the modern Paralympic Games. The national office of NWAA then moved to Colorado Springs, CO in 1982 in an effort to be closer to the National Governing Bodies of the core sports of the US Olympic Committee. During this period, the NWAA played a key role in putting competitive sports for athletes with physical disabilities on the international stage by promoting a series of exhibition events in Wheelchair Track at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In 1994, the organizational name was changed to Wheelchair Sports, USA to more accurately reflect the organization’s mission.


During the early 21st Century Wheelchair Sports, USA found its mission changing dramatically from serving solely individuals using wheelchairs to serving as a comprehensive organization for all individuals with physical disabilities, as multiple Disabled Sports Organizations folded due to economic challenges. As a result, in 2008, the organizational name was changed to Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports USA once more in an effort to better describe the mission that evolved for the organization. It was also within this time frame that WASUSA entered into a formal relationship with the International Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports Federation (IWAS), an off-shoot of the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation. By virtue of this relationship, WASUSA found itself with a mechanism for providing quality competitive opportunities for athletes seeking to establish themselves on an international stage. This relationship continues to the present. Throughout the economic turmoil encountered by WASUSA, the organization has managed to host the preeminent competitive sports event for junior athletes (6 - 22) with disabilities in the United States continuously since 1984. In 2015, Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports USA returned to it's roots and moved it’s offices to Colorado once again.  On January 1 of this year Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports USA became Adaptive Sports USA in a rebranding that changed the look and feel of the organization but not the mission or message....we look forward to leading the way in opening doors and providing opportunities for an underserved and deserving group of athletes.


A History of the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals

The Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals is the oldest and largest continuously held competitive sports event for athletes with physical disabilities ages 6 to 22 in North America. Started in 1984, Junior Nationals has been held in varying locations throughout the United States, including the college campuses of Colorado State, San Jose State, Ohio State University, Princeton, Rutgers and Iowa State.   Developed under the guidance of the Junior Committee of Adaptive Sports USA, Junior Nationals has grown greatly over the years in part because of an emphasis on participation and inclusion for athletes with physcial disabilities, including spinal cord injury; Spina Bifida; Cerebral Palsy; TBI; amputation (congenital/surgical); genetic diseases; etc. This event has served as a training ground for the some of the finest future Paralympic athletes in the country. In the 2012 London Paralympic Games, conducted immediately after the Olympic Games, 46% of Team USA were alumnus of the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals. The event has served as the developmental training ground for some of the greatest Paralympic athletes in the United States, including multi-Gold Medalist Paralympians Tatyana McFadden; Ray Martin; and Marathon Gold Medalist Shirley Reilly.