Wheelchair sports camp resumes for 37th year after pandemic pause

Ottawa County

ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — As summer continues, many groups that couldn’t hold events last year are getting back to it. That’s the case for one West Michigan sports camp that, except for last year, has lasted decades.

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital’s Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports program is back with another weeklong camp for young athletes.

“I was super excited when they told me I could come back,” said 17-year-old and 6-year camp participant Lillian Klingenberg.

The camp kicked off Monday and will last until Friday afternoon. It features a multitude of sports including basketball, handball and dodgeball.

Many volunteers are Grand Valley State University students, or in Chris Kelley’s case, a former student. He completed his undergraduate degree at GVSU. He says this camp is great for getting kids in a chair at a younger age as many wheelchair athletes don’t begin participating in sports until later in life.

“The sooner you can get them in a chair and get them the skillset they need to play the sports, the better it is for development and competition later on, and that just leads to more understanding,” Kelley said. “It just grows the sport overall when you can find juniors and develop them from a younger age.”

Kelley was born with osteogenesis imperfecta. The way he described it is that his bones break easily.

An undated courtesy photo of Chris Kelley (middle) as a child.

He hasn’t let that hinder his passion for sports, though. He’s a member of the U.S. collegiate tennis team and the wheelchair tennis team at the University of Michigan, which is also where he’s pursing his graduate degree.

An undated courtesy photo of Chris Kelley and the wheelchair tennis team at the University of Michigan.

“I’ve been able to travel around the world for tennis, I’ve been able to meet a ton of people. Now, I’m starting to get more into instruction, so having that development as a junior, I’ve been able to look around and see the opportunities these kids could have,” Kelley said.

Kelley says that now since his days as a junior are in the past, he’s looking forward to helping the younger participants unlock their potential.

As for Klingenberg, although her time as a participant may be ending, she’s excited to explore other ways to be involved.

“If I do get a chance to volunteer, I definitely will volunteer,” Klingenberg said.

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