Cleveland Phillis loves the chance to try a new sport. He learned to play tennis, softball, golf, track and field, volleyball and skiing, all thanks to a Special Olympics program in Chicago.
And on Tuesday, the 32-year-old got to shoot an arrow and go kayaking for the first time.
“I love being able to do all kinds of different sports,” Phillis said.
Phillis was one of 30 people from the city’s Special Olympics summer camps who came to Northerly Island for a day of kayaking, archery and fishing.
Special Olympics Chicago offers year-round sports training, hosts competitions and organizes summer camps. It has programs in 24 Chicago Park District locations throughout the city.
The Adventure Club involved Special Olympics campers from three city parks: Bessemer, Douglass and Mann.
The park district has hosted Adventure Clubs for two years. The idea came from a need for socially distanced outdoor activities for campers during the pandemic, said Eileen Guinane, Special Olympics coordinator for the Chicago Park District.
“Many of them don’t have opportunities like this. I have seen some go from being scared in the water to confidently paddling their boats,” Guinan said. “Regardless of where they come from in the city, we are here to serve everyone and give them a great opportunity.”
Adventure Club runs for six weeks every Tuesday during the summer. Each week, three summer camps from City Parks come to Northerly Island. Participants are both children and adults, from 6 to 80 years old.
Campers have different needs. Some need direct help, others are completely independent, Guinane said.
“This has opened the door for so many of our athletes to try something new. For this reason, we held our first archery competition in August,” she said. “These athletes love to compete, set goals, and we make sure they are capable of doing it.”
On her first attempt at the archery range, Briana Lee, 31, shot a bullseye.
“It’s really fun, and it was good to get on target,” Lee said. “It’s good to learn a new sport and archery is fun and a bit of a challenge.”
Lee said he tried kayaking and was excited to get back on the water.
“I was afraid the first time, but this time. I’m not,” Lee said.
She said she had the confidence to try new things thanks to her camp coordinator, Morgan Montoya.
“It really encourages us to do things, to try,” Lee said.
Montoya has been a part of the Special Olympics program for nine years.
“We give them the ability to do anything because they can,” Montoya said. “A lot of people assume they can’t do it, but here we’re proving them wrong.”
Anthony Walker, 34, also shot his first arrow on Tuesday.
“This is quite interesting. I’m having a lot of fun, I can’t wait to try a new sport,” Walker said. “I think this is all great.”