I wanted to dedicate this blog to telling people about my foundation, The Ryan Martin Foundation, and my motivation for starting it, along with some of the exciting events that we have coming up.
Last year our motto was "5 camps, 4 cities and 2 countries!" This year, we will be expanding and offering two new camps, in addition to the five we did in the summer of 2014!
To begin, I LOVED sports when I was growing up. Being from a family of 12, we were always playing whiffle ball, basketball, football etc. I always competed against my able-bodied siblings, and always wanted a chance to compete against other athletes with disabilities. Playing against my older siblings and friends growing up really prepared me in a lot of ways. Those backyard battles would later make playing in NWBA Final Fours, European Championships or league finals seem easier.
Opportunities for children with disabilities used to be very limited, and I always wanted to help change that landscape. The first time I was exposed to adaptive sports was at the Ivan Lendl Sports Camp. This served as a great introduction for me to the world of adaptive sports. This sports camp was started by the Slifka family, with the help of tennis great Ivan Lendl. It made me aware of a wealth of new opportunities. The camp continues to run under the adaptive sports program with the Hospital for Special Care under the direction of Janet Connolly. It's a pleasure to go back every summer and help as the next generation of athletes with disabilities discover their own potential.
Aside from opening my eyes to the world of adaptive sports, the Ivan Lendl Sports Camp made me thirst for more possibilities. I knew that someday I wanted to give back and positively influence the next generation of athletes. But I wanted my foundation to expand beyond the reach of sports, and emphasize the larger issues that affect the disabled community. My goal was to design a program that would help athletes make strides away from their chosen athletic ventures. I wanted to show them what basketball could do, as a vehicle of change for individuals. I wanted to address the issues of proper nutrition for individuals with disabilities, as well as talk to them about how to transition into post-secondary education (whether as an athlete or not.) Basically I wanted to change their entire paradigm by bringing in positive role models who defied odds in the face of their personal challenges.
When I talk about The Ryan Martin Foundation I always use the term "we" because the foundation is about more than just me. There are many people behind the scenes that have helped me accomplish so much in so little time, and so much tremendous support we have received from the various communities we work with. Thanks to our sponsors, we are able to offer each of our camps 100% free to the athletes and their families.
We offer camps where families consistently drive from very far away to attend. Our sponsors believe what we offer is so valuable that they go out of their way, regardless of city, state, or country, to make sure we never have to say "no" to an athlete! With the help of my family, board members, sponsors, volunteers and the athletes and their families, our dream to create programs that benefit individuals with disabilities, with basketball as the focus, has become a reality. However, the take away is much larger than just basketball. We looked to create a camp that would help these athletes with disabilities to make strides on, and off, the court.
People are often surprised at my response when they ask, "What do you want these athletes to take away from camp?" Without fail, I remind them that basketball is the least of my concerns, my goal was always much larger than basketball. We want these athletes to leave with a better understanding of proper nutrition, the importance of education, and to be inspired to create their own dream. I want to tackle important issues that affect the disabled community.
Let me tell you now about the programs we have coming up for the summer of 2015!
This summer we will have 7 basketball camps, in 5 different cities, in two different countries!
Madrid, Spain: June 22 - July 3rd
Windsor, CT: July 20 - July 24
Springfield, MA: July 25, 3rd Annual Celebration & Exhibition Game
Marshall, MN: August 6 - August 9, SMSU Camp
Philadelphia, PA: August 11 - August 15
Canton, MA: August 18 - August 22
Boston, MA: September 12, 13
The first two camps will take place in Madrid, Spain, the city I affectionately call my home away from home. This will be the second year for the Madrid camp in collaboration with ACB Team Estudiantes. This camp is something that I personally take a lot of pride in because it's a chance to give back to athletes with disabilities in a country where I played professionally for 7 years. This camp is run alongside an able-bodied kids basketball camp. It gives the athletes with disabilities a chance to stick out for all the right reasons, for their skills on the basketball court, and not for being disabled. The setup is a dream scenario and a win-win for everyone. One afternoon we will do a wheelchair basketball demo for all the able-bodied athletes and I will tell my story. I'm proud of this camp because this helps reduce stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, as well as give these athletes with disabilities an elite level camp.
Next will be the Connecticut camp, which has been the favorite week of my summer for the past several years. Of all the places I have been and lived, CT is still home, and it's always been my goal to give back to this community, and to help create more adaptive sports possibilities for these athletes. Little do they know how much they inspire me. The best part of the CT camp is to have our "alumni" come back and talk about the strides they have made in life, away from the basketball court.
We will also be having camps in Boston, MA, Philadelphia, PA and Marshall, MN. I'm pleased we have the chance to work with a greater number of athletes.
What started as something small, has now become an international venture and we are thrilled about the impact we can have in these athletes' lives. For more information and registration for camps please go to www.ryanmartinfoundation.org.