BY GREG SIERING
When Indiana University soccer player Allison Jorden suffered a season-ending injury at the start of her sophomore year, she recognized the challenges she would have to overcome to return to the sport she loves. But rather than simply sit on the sidelines, Jorden spent her recovery returning to a sports-related passion she first developed as a high school student in Scottsdale, Arizona.
With the help of the IU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the IU Excellence Academy, Jorden, now a junior, started Everybody Plays, a program that uses sports-themed events to offer local athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities a chance to have fun, compete, and make new friends. Events are hosted by IU student-athlete volunteers from a variety of sports.
About 25 participants joined the first event in the spring where they played soccer-themed games with IU athletes. Since then, events have included track, volleyball, tennis, and wrestling, with other sports planned for next spring.
Participants range in age from 6 to 56, from nonverbal to high-functioning. “Anyone can be an athlete,” Jorden emphasizes. “They just have to embody competitiveness and a champion mindset.”
Jorden, 20, points out the obvious benefits for the participants, such as trying new activities in a supportive environment, spending time with IU athletes, and developing self-confidence. Not as obvious, she says, are how IU athletes benefit. “College athletes often talk about facing adversity—overcoming injuries, coming back in a game or season,” Jorden says. “But athletes with disabilities teach us about facing and overcoming true adversity every day. On a daily basis, they are trying to do things their bodies and brains don’t want to let them do.”
The goal of Everybody Plays is to create a welcoming environment that promotes friendship and wellness. “It’s about having fun, enjoying competition, developing relationships, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle,” Jorden says in an IU Athletics press release. “Even if we don’t improve at all in the sport, if we become better as people, better as athletes, better as friends, then we’ve achieved our goal.”
CHECK OUT OUR PHOTO GALLERY BELOW TO SEE PHOTOS FROM AN EVERYBODY PLAYS EVENT. (Click on the photo below to start the slideshow. Use the on-screen arrows or the arrows on your keyboard to navigate forward and backward.)