Being born prematurely with cerebral palsy has not stopped Daniel Velasquez from being an athlete. And not just an ordinary athlete, but one that was recently invited to tryout for the U.S. Paralympics Men’s Soccer Team, where the median age is 24.
Velasquez is only 17.
Part of that talent and ability comes from his grit and determination, but part of it also stems from his time with Kinetic Kids, a local nonprofit which offers a variety of sports and wellness programs for children with disabilities.
“We got involved when Daniel was about five,” said Lori Velasquez, Daniel’s mother. “We heard about this T-ball game, and when we went to see it, it was overwhelming. There were 12 kids on the field along with all the volunteers helping the kids out and parents cheering them on … We were always looking for things for him to do, so we joined the following season, and every time they added a new program, we signed him up. It gave him a lot of confidence, and the building blocks to excel at another level.”
Kinetic Kids is the brainchild of Tracey Fontenot and Kacey Wernli, two physical therapists who saw a need for kids with disabilities.
“At the time, we worked in a hospital setting and saw lots of kids without many options,” said Fontenot, co-founder and executive director. “They would come in for their physical therapy appointments, but didn’t have much to do outside of those treatments, so it was a way to get some carry over from their physical therapy sessions.
“They wanted to play baseball, so that’s what we did. We went out there with exercise in mind, but saw so many other great benefits as a result … They get an emotional lift, the social aspect, and the ability to connect with everyone else who plays sports, too.”
That was back in 2001, and since that single baseball game with a dozen kids involved, Kinetic Kids has grown to serve more than 1,500 kids throughout the city this year with programs ranging from basketball and cheerleading to track and field, wheelchair tennis and just about everything in between. Programs are seasonal and run year round, with each session lasting six to eight weeks.
“Physical therapy is key to our programs, and we have a therapist present at every event, along with volunteers and support staff to help run each session,” Fontenot said. “And we offer programs throughout the city with a host of partners so that the kids are in actual sport-specific environments. If it’s dance, we’re in a dance studio, if it’s gymnastics we’re in a gymnastics facility – we want our kids to be in a real sports setting.”
Kids as young as 18 months can start participating through some of the “Parent and Me” programs, and from the age of five to 18 can engage in more advanced activities.
“We cover everything from first timers and beginners to kids who want to be more competitive, and have different levels within our programs so that we can pretty much cover everyone,” Fontenot said.
Programing fees average $70 per session, and the organization also offers full and partial scholarships for families in need, but in the end, never turns anyone away. But fees only cover about a quarter of the costs, so they also rely on generosity from private grants, local and corporate sponsors, a fall fundraiser and the Kinetic Kids 5K Walk, Run and Roll. on Jan. 25. You can sign up for it now by clicking here.
The event is currently in it’s third year and features not only a 5K, but a one-mile family course for Kinetic Kids Athletes as well.
“It’s a new location and a new course for us this year, and we hope to have as many as 700 participants,” said Sheryl Cruz, 5K chair. “We’ll be on the east side of town, in a pocket of the city that’s truly a hidden gem that not too many people know about,” she adds.
If you don’t plan to do the 5K yourself, you can always help out by sponsoring other participants, volunteering at the event, becoming a corporate sponsor, or simply making a donation in kind to the Kinetic Kids program.
“It’s a really great organization that helps so many kids with cognitive or physical disabilities,” Cruz said. “It gives them the chance to participate in all types of activities, and that’s what kids are supposed to have – someplace to go and play.”
Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His weekly column covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.