Allison Bertram and Rebecca Fadler
When Piotr Pasik sees an opportunity, he maximizes it. That was no exception for the 2017 Wheelchair Tennis National Tournament, hosted by the University of Alabama.
Piotr competed against Paralympians on the official US team, though he had only been practicing for a short amount of time. He was able to compete due to low numbers; the tournament hosted 5 teams and 10 players total.
But, joining the tournament wasn’t to showcase his tennis skills.
As the coordinator for MSU’s Adaptive Sports Club, Piotr stresses the importance of exercise as an outlet for persons with disabilities. The population has a higher risk of anxiety and depression; exercise is a great outlet for that.
“If you’re told you can’t do something for your entire life, no matter who you are, you’re going to believe it,” Piotr said. “We’re sheltered and don’t get opportunities to fail because we’re seen as fragile.” That social connotation is often what keeps students from getting involved in adaptive sports, among other activities.
Piotr (center, right) and his teammate with opponents at the tournament.
Athletes with disabilities commonly encounter people who think they’re either incapable or inspirational for participating in competitions. This wasn’t the experience Piotr had with the University of Alabama’s Adapted Athletics program; he explained that the program understands common misconceptions about the disability community, which is why they thrive nationally—and another reason why Piotr wanted to experience the tournament first-hand.
“I feel like I’m not seen as a normal guy playing a normal sport,” he commented. “Compare my experience in the tournament to an able-bodied person; people would have different reactions and thoughts about it.” Piotr related the experience to his sports psychology professor–who had been wrestling his whole life–and said it would be like him professionally competing for the first time in his thirties.
Piotr feels that others focus mainly on his disability, instead of other factors that motivate him to play. “I wasn’t playing to prove something about my disability. I wasn’t striving for a record. I played to raise awareness for adaptive sports.”
Piotr in action.
His work with other students with disabilities in the sports world has proven to be effective. While sports help with self-esteem and camaraderie, they also build independent living skills, such as hand-eye coordination, stamina, and endurance. People with disabilities often don’t get the opportunity to independently build those skills, aside from physical therapy.
“Team RCPD applauds Piotr’s efforts,” RCPD Director Michael Hudson said. “He offers a platform, giving students a community around physical activity which boosts health and raises awareness that anyone can benefit from.”
When Piotr started the Adaptive Sports Club, he took initiative as a student to advocate for his peers. MSU had all of the right pieces for Adaptive Sports, and Piotr helped put them together. On this, he said, “I had no right to stand by and watch with indifference.”
Piotr and a fellow MSU student at the tournament.