Paralympic skier Danelle Umstead co-founds new sports nonprofit to support women and girls with disabilities
Sisters in Sport launched on International Women’s Day
Danelle Umstead has another project in the works as she begins her final year as a Paralympic skier.
The Parkite and three-time Paralympic bronze medalist has partnered with disability advocate Bonita Hutchison, a longtime staple in the nonprofit community, to establish the Sisters in Sports Foundation.
The mission of this new nonprofit, which launched Monday on International Women’s Day, is to inspire and create a community of women and girls with disabilities by providing mentor and education programs that encourage participation in sports, develop passion and build a collective voice, according to Umstead.
“We want to help them become their best selves through the involvement of sports and being active,” Umstead said. “That can be just going out to run by yourself or getting involved in a sport and possibly doing it competitively.”
The foundation will also create a life-long community of active women and girls who empower, encourage and motivate each other, she said.
“There is not a community for women with disabilities that provides this type of mentorship programs and resources to help them,” Umstead said.
Hutchison, a former development director for Special Olympics Utah and executive director of Chris Waddell’s One Revolution, said Sisters In Sports Foundation will fulfill its mission and vision through scholarships and recruitment.
“The first program is a scholarship program for women and girls to help them either explore a sport or a program that will help them take their sport to the next level as far as training is concerned,” she said.
Applications for this program are now available by visiting the foundation’s website, sistersinsportsfoundation.org.
The second program is a mentorship platform that pairs women and girls with seasoned participants in their chosen sports, Hutchison said.
“We’ve designed a five-pillar mentor program where the women and girls will learn things like building self-confidence and goal setting,” she said. “One of my favorite components of the program is working with the women and girls to find and express their voices that advocate for the community from an empowerment mindset.”
Empowerment is the key to this program, according to Hutchison.
“It’s important that women with disabilities use their voices to empower themselves and the community, because the disabled community sometimes falls short of that bridge,” she said. “When they fall back on using their disability as a victim stance, it reinforces the stereotypes that they are trying to break down. So, we really want to teach them to use their voices, which is what Danelle has done well in her career.”
Umstead remembers why she began using her platform as a blind Paralympic ski racer to support other disabled female athletes.
“Once you get involved in sports, sometimes you get lost,” she said. “I had to find my own way, and I had to constantly search for ways to evolve and pursue my dream. So, over the years, I have mentored many different girls in ways that I wish someone would have mentored me.”
Once the Sisters in Sports Foundation builds a community of women and girls, Hutchison and Umstead will ask them to use their voices to help change the way society thinks of disabled athletes as a whole.
“I think there are a lot of programs out there for young women to get involved in sport that have mentor programs, but I think the disability community has been lost in that,” Hutchison said.
Some of the women already signed on to the foundation’s vision include triathlete Melissa Stockwell, Paralympic swimmer Anastasia Pagonis, wheelchair basketball player Patty Cisneros, ski racer Melanie Schwartz, Paralympic skier Allison Jones, Paralympic athlete Staci Mannella and adaptive coach Hillary Stapp.
“As these women get more involved, we’ll shift them over to our mentorship programs,” Hutchison said. “We will work with these strong female athletes and train them so they can learn the curriculum we are putting forward and help identify girls in the community they can mentor through athletics.”
As a new nonprofit, the foundation has a gamut of volunteer positions available, as well as a need for funds, according to Hutchison.
Volunteers and donors can contact Hutchison and Umstead by visiting the nonprofit’s website, she said.
“As founders of the organization, Danelle and I are stepping up to offer the first phase of scholarships for the program, but the more money we get, the more girls we can serve,” she said. “We would love the community to join us in supporting the community and bringing the program to more girls.”
Creating the nonprofit is a dream come true for Umstead.
“With this being my last year as an athlete I want to continue to support girls and help them master their impossible,” she said. “There has always been a need for girls to have the collaboration and support of each other.”
Hutchison said Umstead gives people a different perspective when it comes to a disabled athlete.
“She breaks down barriers in the way they need to be broken down,” Hutchison said. “We need to stop seeing people with disabilities though their disabilities. We should, instead, see them through their characters they are, and that’s something Danelle helps people do. She’s an incredible inspiration to me as a woman. She’s a real, genuine and good person.”
For information about Sisters in Sports Foundation, visit sistersinsportsfoundation.org.
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