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Michigan State Alum Preaches Sports for All Students

Piotr Pasik
Piotr Pasik
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Piotr Pasik Started Adaptive Sports at Michigan State, and Hopes to Make the Program the Best in U.S.

EAST LANSING, Mich.- When Piotr Pasik was a kid, he struggled to find a role model who looked like him.

Pasik was born with cerebral palsy, a permanent neurological condition. Growing up in Nowe Miasto, Poland, a town located about 45 minutes north of Warsaw, he was never able to find a stable avenue of athletics. He was always told that he couldn’t play.
 
“It's very rare that kids with disabilities have role models in sports that they can relate to,” he said. “When I was growing up, I wasn’t watching wheelchair basketball. When I watched Michael Jordan, it wasn’t like I could think, ‘I can’t wait to be like Jordan one day’.

“It's not because I couldn’t play sports. It’s because I play sports in a different way.”

Pasik, 35, now spends six days a week participating in sports he was formerly only allowed to watch. He created Michigan State’s adaptive sports program, bringing a new world of opportunity to his alma mater.

Michigan State’s adaptive sports program began in 2014 when Pasik was in graduate school for rehabilitation counseling.

“If you told me that we would be where we are today, I’m not sure I would think it would be this far,” Pasik said. “We are the most consistent and comprehensive wheelchair sports program on a college campus in the country at the recreational level.”

Pasik was inspired to start the program after seeing a lack of physical activity opportunities on campus for individuals with disabilities. He took it upon himself to find an avenue for physically disabled students to be more active. Many of the adaptive athletes spend most of their daily lives in a wheelchair.

Pasik’s cerebral palsy affects his mobility.

“In my case, it affects my muscles and my balance,” he said. “To walk short distances, I use a walker. For longer distances, I use my mobility scooter.”

Pasik participates in a specially-made wheelchair, which allows him to move around the court or rink. Many of MSU’s adaptive athletes, which represent 19 different physical disabilities also use wheelchairs to compete.

Only a few sports were available when adaptive sports was in its start-up stage. This was due to funds that Pasik had to apply for through grants.

Five years later, the program offers rowing, track, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair rugby, and, most recently, added wheelchair hockey in the new adaptive sports rink in Demonstration Hall.

The rink was originally tiled, with the purpose of hosting practices and games for MSU’s club roller hockey team. During this past summer, the MSU replaced the tile with a rubber surface in an effort to make the rink more inclusive and accessible.

“I thought it was amazing,” said senior Kenzie Callahan, who has volunteered with adaptive sports for two years. “Michigan State’s campus isn't that accessible to this community and for them to take the time and money to renovate that was absolutely wonderful.”

Pasik hopes that the new rink could be used as a selling point for more disabled students to come to Michigan State.

“Now that we have the sports rink in Dem Hall, we can draw students with disabilities to our campus,” he said. “They can now engage in extracurricular activities.”

However, the rink isn’t only being used for adaptive sports. Classes for wheelchair sports have been added in Michigan State’s kinesiology department, in an effort to make the rink appealing to all students.

“We've started offering internships with the department,” Pasik said. “That’s allowed us to get more people involved.” 

Pasik hopes the increased opportunities would draw more volunteer interest, and so far, his wish is becoming reality.

“Piotr has developed a program at such a big university for people to come and engage in sports,” said senior volunteer Emily Karyska. “I think it's awesome for physical activity and just a social thing for people to be able to come.”

Pasik’s program and MSU have become a case study for other institutions across the country.

“On a larger scale, our university can serve as a model of inclusion for higher educational institutions around the country to create programs like this,” Pasik said.

Pasik doesn’t show much satisfaction, even when looking at what his creation has evolved to five years after its installment.

At least not yet.

He notes that there is still a ton of work to do, both on campus and at other institutions across the nation.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of pride,” he said. “It's just the right thing to do. Any decent size university in our nation could have a successful program like this.”

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