It has been said that the greatest things on Earth are created through perseverance during the most difficult times. Northern Nevada residents do not have to look any further than Sportif USA, a sportswear and outdoor recreation clothing company based in Sparks, for proof of that statement.
In February 2004, Sportif USA owner John Kirsch suffered a spinal cord injury in an off-road motorcycle accident that left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Tom Williamson, vice president of sales and marketing for Sportif USA, and Kirsch’s brother-in-law, created the John Kirsch Medical Trust in an effort to help Kirsch and his family cope with some exorbitant medical bills not covered by insurance. The response was so overwhelming, Williamson created the FreeWheelin Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing adaptive sports equipment and experiences for mobility-impaired children and adults.
“I am very proud of the FreeWheelin Foundation and all that it has been able to accomplish,” said Williamson. “For disabled sports athletes, it is difficult to find adaptive sports equipment that costs less than $2,000. Our desire is to provide the platform and funding for a more fulfilling lifestyle for the mobility-impaired through the pursuit of athletics and personal accomplishment.”
With the advancements being made in adaptive sports equipment for disabled athletes, the outdoors is becoming accessible in ways never previously thought possible. The mobility-impaired are now enjoying the world of adaptive sports through handcycling, wheelchair tennis, sled hockey, rock-climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, sailing, skiing, scuba diving and numerous other sports.
“It is our foundation’s vision to help fund these activities, and help purchase the equipment needed to realize these dreams,” said Williamson.
With bike-riding a personal favorite of both Kirsch and Williamson, the FreeWheelin Foundation has participated in the annual “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” event in Lake Tahoe. Since first participating in 2004, the FreeWheelin Foundation has raised more than $75,000 for adaptive sports equipment.
With the money raised, the FreeWheelin Foundation has also: purchased three all-sport wheelchairs for a local wheelchair basketball team; sponsored two local adaptive athletes to attend Mark Wellman Climbing Camp; purchased 15 handcyles for local mobility-impaired individuals; and hosted adaptive cycle clinics to introduce the sport of handcycling to more than 60 mobility-impaired area residents.
The FreeWheelin Foundation also sponsors local adaptive athletes in their pursuit of athletic activities at the highest competitive level. The athletes they sponsor include Candace Cable, who is attempting to become the first female adaptive athlete to complete in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, and Ricci Kilgore, a local ski athlete who competed in the National Adaptive Ski Championship in 2005, placing third and fourth in events.
“We want to give people the opportunity to either begin or continue sporting activities they love and have a true passion for,” said Williamson. “It wasn’t until we started the FreeWheelin Foundation that we realized the need for an organization like this and how many people could benefit from our endeavors.”
Earlier this year, the FreeWheelin Foundation received a certificate of recognition from Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn for the outstanding service the organization has provided to the citizens of Nevada.
“To be honored by the governor is a sign that our efforts are succeeding in helping our great community,” said Williamson. “The FreeWheelin Foundation is excited about the future ahead and will continue to grow to serve the Northern Nevada community in the best way possible.”
1415 Greg St., Suite 101
Sparks, Nevada 89431