Unleashing the Athlete Within

I love sports. Growing up, I would watch just about any sport on TV. When I have the time, I still do. However, like many others who use a power wheelchair, my athletic endeavors were limited to being a spectator, referee, or scorekeeper. The desire to play sports has always been there, but for most of my life, that desire never manifested into anything more.

Tony playing power wheelchair soccer

In November 2007, I was living in Virginia and the Major League Soccer Championship match was at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. At the game, I met Jerry Frick, the same person who introduced my friend Natalie Russo to power wheelchair soccer a few years earlier. In my section was a large group of power wheelchair users, and I ended up sitting next to Jerry. He immediately noticed my enthusiasm for soccer and asked if I had ever heard of power soccer. I told him that I had, but wasn't interested; I wanted high-level competition and my limited view of adaptive sports didn't recognize the possibilities. Undeterred by my answer, he handed me a DVD and said, "Check this out. If you like what you see, find a team in your area." That DVD sat on my desk for three weeks. Finally, during a bout of boredom, I decided to see what was on the disc. I was captivated. Jerry gave me a highlight video of the 2007 FIPFA World Cup in Tokyo. The athletes in that video were driving their power chairs in ways that I only dreamed. They were flying around, spinning with incredible force, and launching an oversized soccer ball all over the court. This was exactly what I wanted! After watching that video, I knew I had to find a team. What I didn't know was that by handing me that DVD, Jerry had set me on a path I never thought possible. I searched and found a team in the area, but lack of transportation meant that path had to wait.

Fast-forward to January 2009 and I had moved back to Arizona. On my way to the grocery store, I passed the university student recreation center and saw a sign outside for Arizona Disabled Sports. Curious about what was happening, I ventured inside and quickly got my answer. In the gym were power wheelchairs flying around, spinning with incredible force, and launching an oversized soccer ball all over the court. Score! I excitedly asked about how to join and went to my first practice the following week. In March 2009 I played my first competition in San Jose, California. During a match, I had the ball and charged toward the opposing goal. The goalkeeper rushed out to stop me. Neither of us flinched. The sound of two 300-pound power wheelchairs colliding rumbled throughout the gym. I felt so alive! After that tournament, I knew power soccer would take over my life.

Tony playing power soccer

Mom Always Said I Had a Face for Radio

A few months prior to that fateful November 2007 day at RFK Stadium, I had completed journalism school at Arizona State University. During my time in the program, I focused on radio with the goal of being a broadcaster. I worked as a music DJ, producer, and sports commentator. As graduation approached, I realized that taking the traditional route to a career in the broadcast industry would be incredibly difficult. Many aspiring broadcasters start in small markets, located in places that are not well-equipped for people with physical disabilities. This is especially challenging if you live alone like I do. This was understandably disappointing and after earning my degree, I was resigned to the idea that my short-lived broadcasting "career" was over. Little did I know that it was just beginning, as power soccer would revive my broadcasting ambitions in 2012.

Bringing It All Together

The owners of Power Soccer Shop wanted to record games from the national tournament they were hosting. They approached me with the idea of providing play-by-play commentary for the videos; they knew I had experience from my tenure at my college radio station. I agreed, thinking it would be fun to relive my college radio days for a weekend. I was pretty rusty, but they loved it. The next year, they asked me to do it again. By this time, I had moved to Minnesota to work at Power Soccer Shop. They had big ideas for broadcasting power soccer and wanted me to be a part of it. We were going to stream the games live and we were taking it international.

Tony commentating on a live stream

November 2013 was our first live broadcast. It was an Under-18 tournament in Paris and it was a big success. Since that broadcast, Power Soccer Shop has taken me back to Europe, to South America, and all over North America to bring power soccer to people around the world. Never could I have imagined that I would find a way to be an athlete, fulfill my desire to be a broadcaster, and combine them into an incredible journey. It's astonishing to reflect on what has happened since 2009. I just finished my ninth season as a power soccer athlete and I will be ending 2018 with trips to Denmark and Uruguay to broadcast power soccer tournaments. All these experiences gave me the confidence to start my own live streaming company in 2017. ParaSportsLive was created with the focus of bringing the live streaming experience to other adaptive sports and providing broadcast opportunities to others with disabilities. So far, I have covered sled hockey and wheelchair rugby, including play-by-play commentary for the 2018 USQRA Division I and Division II National Championship matches.

Get Out There!

Sport can be a wonderfully powerful force for those who participate. For those with disabilities, adaptive sports can carry a far greater positive impact. For many, they provide the first real team environment and reveal life lessons that can only be learned from working with a team. For others, adaptive sports are their primary social outlet, giving people an opportunity to interact with their peers. If you have ever considered playing a sport but hesitated, go try it out. You never know where it can take you.

About the Author

Tony Jackson

Tony Jackson is currently the Power Soccer Coordinator at Northeast Passage in Durham, NH, where he coaches athletes and plays for the NEP Wildcats. In addition to the live stream commentary for Power Soccer Shop, he also does graphic design work for them. With ParaSportsLive, he wants to expand into more adaptive sports to showcase them to audiences everywhere. In his spare time, he enjoys discovering new music, cooking, dreaming of the next travel adventure, watching sports, and learning the arts of motion graphics and 3D modeling.

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Date: 7/24/2018 12:00:00 AM


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