Every year, competitors gather at the University of Central Oklahoma to compete in the Endeavor Games for athletes with physical disabilities. Many come from out of state — some from across the globe — to compete in 11 events, including swimming, power lifting, table tennis and archery.
This year, there is additional motivation. The 2012 Summer Paralympics in London are just around the corner, and winners of the Endeavor Games may qualify for a bid to attend.
“We have more experienced athletes participating this year hoping for a spot at London, as well as many other new athletes attending our clinics to try adaptive sports for the first time,” said Leigha Pemberton, UCO’s sports programs coordinator.
The Endeavor Games has a history of excellence when it comes to strong competitors. Athletes in the 2004 games included Jeremy Campbell, who went on to set a world record in the pentathlon and win gold in men’s discus throwing at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
A notable athlete in this year’s games is Russell Wolfe. A veteran archer, he entered the Endeavor Games for the first time in 2007 and quickly made his presence felt.
Like any talented athlete, Wolfe makes what he does look simple. But it takes serious training to become an archer of his caliber. He shoots up to 400 arrows a day in practice, often between 150 and 200 per day in the week before competition.
“Keeping focused on the process from start to finish is the hardest thing,” said Wolfe. “It is pretty easy to let your mind stray.”
Since entering the realm of competitive archery, he has placed in multiple tournaments around the world, and in 2005 became a member of the U.S. Paralympic archery team. Wolfe will be competing in London this summer.
UCO founded the Endeavor Games in 2000. Five years later, the university became an official U.S. Paralympics training site.“A big part of that is our involvement with the military sports program,” said Grant Leatherwood of UCO’s Wellness Center. “We take wounded servicemen and women, veterans or still active, and some of them for our training sports camps; we teach them Paralympics sports for the first time — things like sitting volleyball, track and field, cycling and others.
“After they’ve become a little more involved with it, they can compete for a spot on teams like the U.S. men’s or women’s sitting volleyball team, which we house and train at the wellness center.”
In addition to experienced athletes, the Endeavor Games are open to anyone with physical disabilities who is looking for the thrill of competition, or just fun. Last year, children as young as 3 came to participate and spend the day engaging in events with their peers.