14:31 PM

Community Impact: Athens Inclusive Recreation and Sports (AIRS)

Kim Keeney has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair. Her husband, Roger, is blind. The couple, however, does not let their disabilities define them—far from it. Instead, they operate Athens Inclusive Recreation and Sports (AIRS), a nonprofit organization that gets people like them moving and active and, as a byproduct, healthier and happier.

The Keeneys started AIRS in 2012. Today, the agency annually serves about 300 people with developmental, physical or intellectual disabilities by providing them an outlet for sports and recreation through adapted sports activities.

“To be healthy, you can’t sit at home and play video games; you have to stay active,” said Kim Kenney, AIRS program coordinator.

“In Georgia, one in four people in the general population deals with obesity,” said Roger Keeney, AIRS director. “But it’s three-in-four for people with long-term disabilities because they don’t have as many opportunities for fitness exercise. We offer that opportunity, which gives them independence, improved quality of life, and the life-affirming experience of playing their best as part of a team.”

The adapted activities are seasonal with beep baseball played in spring/summer and wheelchair basketball and power soccer offered in fall/winter. In beep baseball, batters and field players are visually impaired while sighted players serve as pitcher, catcher and field assistants. Batters listen for the ball to “beep” and swing as it crosses the plate. The AIRS Timberwolves have competed at the National Beep Baseball Association’s World Series each season since AIRS was established, including last summer’s series in Tulsa, Okla., says Roger who, at 72, is the oldest player in the national league.

Thanks to a recent $7,500 grant from the Jackson EMC Foundation, AIRS purchased new adaptive equipment and uniforms, which enabled the organization to add players to their teams.

The wheelchair basketball team, Rolling Thunder, includes some players who are not confined to wheelchairs. Sometimes they play against teams whose players have no disabilities. “They use wheelchairs and play by our rules,” said Roger Keeney. After the University of Georgia football team competed with AIRS in wheelchair basketball, the score was Rolling Thunder, 40; UGA, 10.

“When the football players get up out of that chair, their attitudes about people with disabilities are changed forever,” said Roger Keeney. “Including non-disabled players helps change attitudes toward people with disabilities. That’s our focus: to change attitudes. If they change their views on disabilities, our isolation vanishes.”

For more information about Athens Inclusive Recreation and Sports (AIRS), visit airs-ga.org.