Adaptive Sports Connection provides equipment for people with physical and cognitive disabilities

Steve Wartenberg
For Columbus CEO
Sharon Schreiber, executive director, of Adaptive Sports Connection photographed on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.

When he moved to Columbus in the fall of 1992, Steve Ricker brought along a very specialized skill: teaching people with disabilities to ski.

Born in Canada, where he learned to ski, Ricker moved to Ithaca, New York, in the 1980s, “where I volunteered with an adaptive ski program,” he says. “At the first clinic, where I learned how to teach, the teacher was a blind man in his 60s, and I was hooked.”

Soon after moving to Columbus, Ricker, who works in sales and marketing in the medical equipment industry, founded the Adaptive Adventure Sports Coalition, now called Adaptive Sports Connection.

Adaptive Sports Connection provides equipment for biking, kayaking, skiing and sailing

In addition to skiing, Adaptive Sports Connection volunteers work with, teach and provide specialized equipment for several outdoor activities, including road cycling and mountain biking, kayaking, waterskiing and sailing. While Adaptive Sports Connection is well-known by hundreds of children, adults and veterans with physical and cognitive challenges, the organization is a bit under the radar for many in the region. “We’ve always been one of the best-kept secrets,” says David Holzer, an Adaptive Sports Connection board member and a kayak instructor.

Sharon Schreiber, who joined the organization in December 2016 as its first full-time executive director, is working to increase the organization’s local profile. Schreiber has expanded the board, connected with local companies, such as Cardinal Health and AEP, applied for and received grants, and is about to undertake a game-changing, $6.6 million capital campaign to build an “adventure lodge” at the nonprofit’s headquarters on the banks of the Scioto River in Shawnee Hills.

“Sharon’s contacts have opened a lot of doors and her leadership has allowed us to draw higher-level board members,” Holzer says.

Schreiber, an Ohio State University graduate, worked in Florida in the marketing and communications field, specializing in health care. She moved back to Columbus in 2015, attended an Adaptive Sports Connection skiing event, where “they put me in one of the sit skis [that disabled skiers use] to see what it was like, and, it was so fascinating to watch and learn,” Schreiber says.

There were a few reasons Schreiber took on this new challenge. “I was at a point where I wanted to work with and focus in on one organization. My mission had always been health and wellness, so I was really drawn to this opportunity.”

The second reason was the people she’d met: The board members, volunteers and community of people with disabilities who participate in the organization’s programs. “I’ve learned so much from our adaptive athletes,” Schreiber says. “That we are all adaptive and resilient and can overcome obstacles.”

Maddison Mattey learned to ski at an Adaptive Sports Connection clinic when she was 13, and she later volunteered while attending Ohio University. “The joke is that they taught me how to ski and now they can’t get rid of me,” says Mattey, who was born without a left leg. She is the organization’s director of operations.

Schreiber and her team launched Get Out and Kayak in 2020. It was open to the disabled community and anyone who wanted a fun day out on the river learning how to kayak. It was successful, with 800 people participating the first year and 1,400 in 2021. The fees are used to fund Adaptive Sports Connection programs and purchase adaptive equipment. Several participants have become volunteers.

The success of Get Out and Kayak led to Get Out Adventures and more outdoor activities, including skiing, paddle boarding, and hiking. "The social enterprise is designed to support and sustain the work of Adaptive Sports Connection," Schreiber says.

Adaptive Sports Connection leases the land on the west bank of the Scioto River from Columbus Recreation and Parks. This will be the site of the $8 million adventure lodge. “We want to create a community and programming facility,” Schreiber says, adding she envisions other nonprofits groups utilizing the lodge. “We’re really excited about bringing more people here, other groups, inner-city kids, to use the facility and get them out and into nature.”

Ricker remains a member of the Adaptive Sports Connection board and continues to run ski clinics. “Volunteerism is addictive and now, so many of the disabled folks I’ve met are like family,” he says.

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.

Adaptive Sports Connection

6000 Harriot Drive, Powell, 43065

Mission: To empower children, adults and veterans with physical and cognitive challenges through sports and therapeutic outdoor recreation.

Executive director: Sharon Schreiber

Employees: 6

Funding: Individuals and clubs, 17%; corporate donations and events, 35%; grants, 23%; program fees, social enterprise, 20%; program fees, 5%.