Girl Scouts experience paralympic sports

Published 7:27 pm Thursday, June 19, 2008

As Bryan Kirkland threw the ball up in the air, the Girl Scout campers scampered around, trying to get in position to catch it and begin their game of rugby.

They were able to use their hands and feet, but there was one catch: they couldn’t get out of their chairs. They were trying to see the game from Kirkland’s perspective.

Kirkland is a world-class Paralympic athlete who will compete with the national Paralympic quad rugby team at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

Kirkland, a native of Leeds, was competing at a motocross race in 1992 when he took a bad fall and broke his neck.

However, when he was in the hospital recovering, he saw a wheelchair athlete on the television news and was immediately inspired.

“I was lucky. From day one, I saw that,” he said. “It was all immediate. I got involved with sports five months after my injury I’ve been doing it 16 years now.”

Kirkland said he does speaking engagements and events to heighten awareness of what people with disabilities are capable of doing.

“It’s just to show them that you continue living whether you are born with a disability or you develop one,” he said.

Sometimes even people with disabilities need to be shown that, he said.

“Some people are not lucky enough to be involved right away. I’ve had some people in wheelchairs ask what the Paralympics was,” Kirkland said.

Julie Hall, camp director, said she was amazed to learn about athletics programs for the disabled.

“I know several quadriplegics. I know what their lives are like,” she said. “I had no idea there were such elaborate sports programs.”

Hall said Kirkland, who visited Kanawahala Program Center Wednesday, explained that the term “Paralympic” comes from the games being a parallel to the Olympic games.

“One of the points for the Girl Scouts is character,” she said. “We want to have the girls develop character and show them they can do anything.”

Hall said the scouts were working on an Olympics merit badge that required them to learn about the Paralympics. She called the Lakeshore Foundation, which sent Kirkland out to meet the girls.

“He is a normal guy. If he can do anything, they can do anything,” she said.

Kirkland he was lucky because the Lakeshore Center, located in Birmingham, is a national Olympics and Paralympics training site. He can train close to home, whereas most athletes must fly in from all over the country.

Kaitlin Mans of Helena, a camper, said she enjoyed meeting Kirkland and trying her skill at being a Paralympic rugby player.

“It was really fun. It was cool to see what it was like not to be able to use your legs,” she said. “It doesn’t feel normal to us, but it does to them.”

Kirkland said he enjoys being around children because they’re so honest.

“I really enjoy the questions and being able to answer just honestly,” he said. “I remember back when I grew up. I didn’t have that awareness.”