Gladius Athletic Foundation (GAF) is offering non-traditional sports that will allow success in participating in sports that are challenging. This will translate into success into other parts of their lives, in addition to showing personal achievement and educating others that the only limits are the ones we put on ourselves.
We are the founders Nylda Osorio-Vadnais and Jay Vadnais. We come from families where both of our fathers were blind; we understand first-hand the frustration, lack of empowerment and the lack of acceptance from society due to a disability. One father was involved in a random act of violence that left him blind at the age of 45 and the other father was severely injured and blinded in car accident at age 48. The injuries seriously limited his mobility and the blindness compounded these limitations.
Due to the blindness, both fathers were diligently trying to find the balance between the world of limitation and the world of once having the ability. This left them feeling isolated, frustrated and completely dependent on others after having been very independent people. Among the effects was weight gain from the lack of movement, socialization, and inclusion. Many times, they did not want to go anywhere because they felt out of place and people stared at them.
Our fathers have since passed. We wish there was a facility where we could have taken them to receive the inclusiveness of a group and one-on-one attention from trained fitness instructors that could see past the special needs to help them reach their own potential for greatness.
We want to provide an outlet for people to vent their frustrations and allow a healthy level of friendly competition to flourish. Everyone needs a way of releasing excess energy in a constructive way in a supportive environment around others with special needs, feeling normal without people staring or being judgmental. We want to give these individuals the tools to change things independently and collectively.
One of the biggest hurdles in the special needs community is the cost of transportation to and from the facility so they could attend on their schedule, not at the discretion of others. We have made contacts with local providers of transportation for the special needs community and would love to help to expand their reach and accessibility.
One of our major desires is to provide the access to facilities to allow special needs individuals to achieve their goal of independent living the confidence and skills to thrive and survive. The GAF is our means of changing this paradigm to allow for a constructive outlet for those with these needs to receive them in a safe and nurturing environment.
In the summer of 2016, we had the opportunity to encounter three special needs individuals (two individuals with Down Syndrome and a deaf individual) through fencing that became the catalyst and inspiration for the foundation.
In all three cases, we found that there were common factors: excitement of participation, inclusion, sense of accomplishment, self-advocacy, self-empowerment. However, what moved us the most was how infectious their excitement was. They were super excited, which in turned made us super excited to help in any way possible to make the experience more memorable.
This only goes to prove the strength and determination of the human spirit when limitations are taken off individuals. These experiences made us really want to help provide this ‘out-of-the-box’ opportunity within the Special Needs community.