BRADENTON- Robbie Gordon receives a bullet pass and swivels to the right to charge towards his basketball at the far end of the court. He suddenly swerves left to avoid a defender. He charges diagonally to his left side as two players come swiftly towards him. He feels the heat but does not lose his cool as he releases a bomb high in the air. It spins, curves, and suddenly banks to the left. Just enough to swoosh the basketball!
“No way,” responds one opposing defense player.
Gordon defies the odds by hitting an impossible shot from the confines of his wheelchair especially built for handicapped individuals to play basketball.
Gordon’s spirit is the epitome of what has been going on in the Bradenton area for the last two weeks due an international initiative by the United Nations.
Global Action Initiatives shined the international spotlight on the Bradenton community as it hosted forty-seven young adults from around the world and the United States at the International Sport & Social Impact Summit held at IMG Academy over the last two weeks.
The event, the United Nations Office for Development and Peace Youth Summit Programme hosted by Global Action Initiatives uses sports as the venue for training the 18 to 28 year olds who apply to be the world’s next generation of grass-roots leaders to address continental, social and economic issues and to train others about community development and world peace.
Over a two-week period, the young adults selected for the Summit got the opportunity to take sports clinics in baseball, basketball, ice skating, hockey, rugby, soccer, sled hockey, tennis, wheelchair baseball, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair tennis. The Summit participants worked with Olympic, Paralympic, and Professional athletes who taught the sports workshops. Several of the athletes involved in Summit training are now residents of Bradenton and the surrounding Tampa Bay Area.
“I’ve been here in the Bradenton area since 2002,” said Mark Ladwig, the 35-year old paired figure skater who has won six national metals, a couple of international metals, and who went to World’s competition twice and to the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Ladwig is now a prominent trainer at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex. During a session on Saturday, June 13th, he worked with beginning ice skaters as well as ice skaters in wheelchairs.
“It’s a cradle to grave kind of sport,” said Ladwig. He later noted how some Summit participants who entered the Ice Rink for the very first time started to gain more and more confidence as their balance improved on the ice. The participants at the Ellenton Ice Skating workshop also had the opportunity to be inspired by a group of Paralympic ice skaters. The female Paralympic ice skater epitomized how the drive to play the sport inspired her to keep reaching for the stars.
“I’m gonna end up getting a Ph. D in neuroscience (because) that’s what I like doing.” She said. The American Paralympic athlete currently teaches online.
Just up the road at the Premier Sports Campus, an estimated fifteen Rugby teams both collegiate and community sports clubs competed in the state’s Invasion Sevens Rugby competition. High School Rugby teams had the opportunity to participate in live-match mentoring from PRUSA L3 Certified Coaches and Coach Educators Dominic Wareing and Mark Griffin.
Rounding out the busy Saturday itinerary were traditional basketball and wheelchair basketball clinics held by current and former football stars like Mark Brunell (Super Bowl NFL Champion with New Orleans Saints, 3–time pro bowl quarterback, and ESPN analyst) featuring: Carlton Mitchell (Current NFL Player Cleveland Browns); Doug Martin (Current NFL Player Tampa); Bay Buccaneers); Louis Murphy (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); and Jerry Bell (Former NFL Player, Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Over a dozen football and basketball pros worked with participants in basketball clinics on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Sunday’s sports clinic wound down the IMG Academy Soccer practice field.
Several of the foreign Summit participants participating in the Soccer clinics expressed the desire to use what they have learned about sports and leadership to improve their community.
“We use sports to reconnect and empower young people and communities,” said Linn Sambili from Kenya. Sambili said the application process was tedious but worth the effort. She is a part of the International Women’s Working Group.
“What I want to gain mostly (from this experience) is inspiration and experience of how sports can change the world…and I think I’ve gotten a feel of how it can be done through community-based organizations like Shake-A-Leg Miami,“ said Keenefe Katisenge from Botswana. Katisenge’s main sport is Chess because she likes the challenge of mind games.
Nina Francisco, a Global Ambassador for Empowering Women by 2020, is from Angola. “I am committed to the social sustainability of girls and women all over the world and part of that includes sports,” said Francisco.
Oscar Ramirez is a migrant from Mexico who currently lives in California. “My organization, Soccer Without Borders, works with refugees…from my country and we use sports as a tool for them to engage in society,” said Ramirez. Ramirez punctuated his experiences at the Summit in one sentence
“One of the most important things I have learned is how necessary it is to be a community.”
The Summit concluded with an awards dinner, picture signing, and commemorative cake for the participants and trainers last Friday evening, June 19th.
Participants headed back to their home states and countries the next day, Saturday, June 20th.
Story and images by By Allen A. Buchanan
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