A future Paralympian could be getting treatment at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare right now.
Gillette has a history of encouraging all people to participate in sports and it has a strong therapeutic recreation program to help children find opportunities to stay physically active. Tammy Larson, the supervisor of the therapeutic recreation specialists at Gillette, is pleased several past Paralympians have received care at Gillette.
“There have been some patients that received rehab at Gillette and then went on to compete in the Paralympic games,” Larson says. “You see them right after their initial injury and they need help to move around in their wheelchair. Then through hard work and training they can compete at a very high athletic level. It’s amazing.”
Eleven Minnesota athletes are competing in the Tokyo Paralympic Games August 24 through September 5, 2021. Like the participants in last month’s Olympic Games, these Paralympians faced a one-year delay in competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and safety precautions.
Organizers of the Paralympic Games say the event is a way to draw attention to the 15 percent of the global population who are living with a disability.
The Paralympic flame is a spark
Watching the Olympic athletes try their best and achieve their goals is inspirational and prompts some of us to dream of our own gold medal moment. These moments of victory are especially motivating for children and can be a spark to try a new physical activity.
Tammy Larson is an avid Olympic watcher and says the games are an opportunity for kids and parents to think about trying a new sport. Gillette offers lots of support and resources for kids who are patients.
“We just need a Gillette provider to send us an order in a child’s medical record stating that the child is interested and approved to explore a new sport,” Larson says. “Then we’ll take it from there. We can talk to families in person or on the phone to steer them in the right direction.”
The therapeutic recreation team works in inpatient and outpatient settings. “When a patient is staying at Gillette our team is really focused on activities to help that child heal and achieve the goals that their care team has outlined for them,” Larson says. “We work with our Child Life specialists to make the time at Gillette as fun as it can possibly be. Rehabilitation is hard work, but therapeutic recreation has lots of tools to help make it fun and interesting.”
When a child has recovered enough to leave Gillette and is an outpatient the therapeutic recreation team helps with more sports-focused activities. “We can do bike evaluations, connect families with sports teams and make suggestions on ways to keep a child active,” Larson adds.
Building confidence and strength
Staying active has obvious physical advantages but sometimes the mental benefits can be even more meaningful for a child’s quality of life.
“When I look around the waiting room at Gillette I can tell which kids are involved in sports,” Larson says. “The active kids are more independent. They have more confidence. It really carries over in how they present themselves in the world.”
“It’s great to see kids being part of a team and making friends,” Larson adds. “We can steer families to places where they can meet other kids in similar physical condition and they can form friendships.”
The benefits of consistent physical activity also include better weight control, improved heart health and muscle strength.
The therapeutic recreation team at Gillette lets families know about “try it before you buy it” opportunities. “Sometimes it’s difficult for a family to try to invest in adaptive sports equipment. It can be expensive and you want to make sure your child is really interested in participating in the sport before you make a financial commitment,” Larson suggests.
She reminds us that not every child will wind up being an Olympic or Paralympic athlete but having fun and challenging yourself physically is helpful for all kids to live their best life.
“One of the best parts of my job is that I get to offer children and families hope,” Larson says. “Beyond the elite competition, celebrating hope and opportunity is also at the heart of the Paralympic Games.”