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S.O.A.R.: Saturday Opportunities for Adaptive Recreation

“Don’t be afraid to throw the ball.” Normally, when playing the rough and rowdy game of dodgeball, you wouldn’t have to tell me this twice. But when you’re the only one left on your team, and the opponent you are facing is a 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy leaning precariously on crutches, you have to be told twice, three times, maybe even ten times, that you shouldn’t be afraid to throw the ball. And there I was, clutching a foam dodgeball, mind racing a million miles an hour, and despite what the adaptive recreation supervisor was telling me, I was afraid of throwing the ball.

Backtracking a bit, this was my second time at the SOAR—or Saturday Opportunities for Adaptive Recreation—program. The first time I went, I had an eye-opening experience playing wheelchair basketball with kids who had various disabilities, ranging from cerebral palsy to Downs syndrome to autism. Nothing makes you realize how lucky you are like shooting a basket while standing, and then being put into a wheelchair and trying to do the same thing. But that didn’t deter any of the kids from participating, and not to mention dominating, in the sport. The bursts of laughter and playful remarks from the kids about my inability to turn in a wheelchair played repeatedly in my head for the rest of that week, and I found myself gushing to everyone and anyone about the program. It was the first year that Bruin Belles had collaborated with SOAR, and it immediately became a Belle favorite because of the amount of interaction that we were able to have with the disabled youths. Typically, the same families came every week, so we were blessed with the chance to see them grow as the weeks went on.

So now that you have a bit of background on how I got to where I was, back to my initial story. Seconds passed by like minutes, as I frantically fought against every urge to gently roll the ball, or intentionally throw it completely off target. I looked to my teammates, and none offered any suggestions, just as torn as I was. And then I remembered something that girl had said to me earlier that day when I asked her what she wanted to do when she was older. She had smiled and said, “I love dance. And I love UCLA. And someday, I want to go to UCLA, and study dance, and perform at big shows and concerts. I know really hard, both to get into UCLA and also to dance, but I’ve been through a lot, and I’m strong enough.  If anything, I’m stronger than those who haven’t done what I’ve done, experienced what I’ve experienced.” Those words came flooding into my head, and I made the decision I would have wanted her to make for me; the ball left my hand flying right at her, and she squealed and crutched as quickly as possible to get out of the way. One of her crutches slipped on the floor, and she went crashing down, and I immediately ran over, feeling like I had made the absolute worst decision of my life. As I opened my mouth to apologize, she started laughing, and shouted, “I hope you know that this means war! I’ll take you down, and you’re going to wish you’d never started this!”

Needless to say, SOAR really opened my eyes to adaptive recreation, and how youth deal differently with the same disabilities. I’ve learned countless lessons from the kids I’ve seen week after week, and I can honestly say that they’ve changed my life. I couldn’t be more thankful to Bruin Belles for opening up the opportunity! BBSA; changing our lives every, single day! <3

Bertina Loui
Third Year Belle | Philanthropy Co-Director


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