Area nonprofit promotes sports for the disabled

Posted: July 2, 2018 / Source: Ahwatukee Foothills News

Straddling the shooting line, Zach Wharton’s feet are shoulder-width apart and his posture is relaxed. He places the arrow on its rest and snaps the nock on the bowstring. He prepares his trigger and pulls back the drawstring.

He stares down the target through the sight ring and exhales one last breath before sending his arrow down the 40-yard stretch. He assesses his shot, makes his adjustments and repeats the process.

Wharton does it all from his wheelchair.

Athletes will face challenges they have to overcome. There are some, however, who must conquer different obstacles. Wharton, 23, is an archer and spokesman for Arizona Disabled Sports, a Mesa nonprofit organization founded in 1988.

“I go out in the community and I basically help spread the word of the program and how there are different sports,” said Wharton, who graduated from Red Mountain High School in 2014.

Wharton was born with spina bifida, a disorder in which the spinal cord fails to develop completely. It hasn’t prevented him from living his life to the fullest.

Since he was 6, he’s played a variety of sports, including archery, curling and air rifle, with AZDS.

“Wheelchair basketball I played for a while. Track was one of them. Field was another,” Wharton said. “I did swimming for a little bit and then came over to archery.”

AZDS’ vision statement is “Let no one sit on the sideline.” It offers a range of adaptive sports, including track and field, swimming and air rifle.

“It’s a great program for these individuals who are with a disability to give them something to do, give them a sport to be involved in,” Wharton said.

AZDS volunteer Dalyss Perry said she is awed by what she’s seen the athletes accomplish.

“For some, it’s sight. For others, it’s physical. Some kids, their arms aren’t strong enough and they have to use their mouths to pull the arrow, which is really cool,” Perry said.

Perry said Wharton is the perfect athlete/spokesman.

“He has that personality where he doesn’t seem to let his disability control him. He’s very outgoing and positive about life,” Perry said. “He’ll make a bad (shot) and he goes, ‘Oh, that’s OK, I’ll do better,’ and he just makes you want to do that for yourself.”

Wharton also represented AZDS at the Diamondbacks Disability Expo – an event meant to increase awareness of the programs available for people with disabilities.

He’s been a leader for Project Lead the Way and has participated in the Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida, a one-day walk and picnic dedicated to raising funds for the Arizona Spina Bifida Association.

In addition to those roles, Wharton advocates for sponsorships and promotes the programs at city council meetings. He said he does it because he can relate to other people with disabilities, and it also helps him break free of his comfort zone.

“It gives me the social skills to communicate with others and gives me the chance to come out and actually participate in my community,” Wharton said. “Once you start (AZDS), it’s a blast. Because, not only are you having fun yourself, but you get to have fun with other athletes.”

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