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NAC starts year in Thailand

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

What better way to ring in the new year than to make a difference in people lives?

The National Ability Center (NAC) has established so many rewarding disabled sports programs locally nationally and abroad in Chile, Spain and Korea, that it only make sense that they would take their mission to yet another population. When a grant opportunity came past the desk of the NAC’s CEO and co-founder Meeche White, she immediately seized the opportunity.

The grant was from the U.S. Department of State Cultural Affairs Division for a yearlong sports exchange, designed to enable Americans to share sporting opportunities abroad. With the NAC’s involvement in the expansion of Paralympic sports and other endeavors, White knew it was paramount to establish positive relationships with many nations and completed a proposal. While waiting for approval, White used her time wisely, making contacts with different countries and Thailand responded.

When the grant was awarded, the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities based in Pattaya, Thailand was ready to work with the NAC to establish adaptive recreation programs. With the help of the Mobility Project, a Seattle, Wash.-based non-profit for the disabled, the NAC soon shipped 100 wheelchairs, handcycles and other disabled sports equipment.

With the necessary connections and equipment ready to go at the beginning of the year, White traveled to Thailand to meet the partners in the sports exchange, assigned roles and responsibilities and finalized schedules.

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, armed with a troop of specialists in various disabled sports, White will head to Pattaya and Chang Mai, Thailand to officially kick-off the exchange. The sports that will be taught include wheelchair basketball and tennis, road racing and handcycling. The team of specialists will hold coaches’ training sessions in each of the respective sports, so that the exchange may continue and eventually become self-sustaining after the year is over.

According to White the buzz among the disabled community in anticipation of the exchange is already growing.

"It’s created a lot of excitement," White said.

In Thailand, the disabled have not received the attention or services that Americans enjoy, so such a program is both welcomed and needed. At the Paralympic level, Thai athletes enjoy national support, but resources are slim at the grassroots level.

"They are very honored and thrilled, because the disabled aren’t receiving full services," White explained.

The program is designed for disabled citizens ages 8-18, but adults may also be included. They hope to reach those citizens who have not had such athletic opportunities before and set up a network of sorts to identify all of those who would like to participate.

"We’re very excited for this great opportunity through the Department of the State and my hope is we will make a lasting program in Thailand," White said.

This spring, a group from Thailand will travel to Utah to visit the NAC and learn more about American culture. Both NAC and the Thailand organizers hope that the program will not only establish long-term adaptive recreation programs in Thailand but also allow both countries to share their cultures and establish common ground.

White hopes to use the Thailand program as a model for sports exchanges that she can eventually take to other nations.

For more information on the Thailand project, visit http://www.nac1985.org .


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