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Gift of movement

Event raises funds, awareness for nonprofit Yes U Can USA

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8:53 a.m., Oct. 15, 2012--For the 115,000 people in Delaware with disabilities, movement is a gift, not a given. That gift was celebrated on Thursday, Oct. 11, at a dinner and silent auction hosted by Yes U Can USA, a center for adapted sports, fitness, and recreation.

The University of Delaware’s Steve Goodwin, associate professor of behavioral health and nutrition, is a member of Yes U Can’s board of directors, and UD is one of the organization’s key partners. 

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Through an interdisciplinary health sciences extension program, a registered student organization, and engineering classes, UD students and faculty are developing individualized exercise programs, offering healthy eating workshops, and designing specialized adapted equipment including a trail trike and a rowing shell.

The speakers at Thursday evening’s event shared both the poignancy of personal stories and the power of partnerships.

Delaware First Lady Carla Markell read a letter she received from a soldier who was left with no legs after an explosion in Afghanistan. He referred to exercise as a source of both motivation and frustration. Initially focusing only on his disability, he eventually learned that he could push himself toward different athletic achievements, and he is now a competitive athlete, head of an orthotics business, and a volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Vickie George, president and CEO of Yes U Can, founded the organization after progressive MS gradually stripped her of her outstanding athletic abilities. “I was gifted,” she said. “I had it all.  I understood my body — it defined me.”

Now essentially a quadriplegic, George does gym workouts, skis, and rides horses with assistance. She credits her friend and business partner, Deborah Woolwine, with telling her “yes you can” as she went through the transition into disability.

“She also encouraged me to develop a relationship with the University of Delaware,” George said, “and they have turned out to be our biggest resource. We’ve even had students change their major to disabilities studies after being involved with Yes U Can.”

George has discovered that she has capabilities way beyond her own expectations. “I can do things that neurologists can’t explain,” she said. “Some remarkable things happen with movement.”

Paralympian Amanda McGrory has also experienced the gift of movement — at a world-class level. A native of Kennett Square, Pa., the 26-year-old was left paralyzed from the waist down at the age of five, when she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis. She shared her story at the dinner, telling the audience that she felt “stuck, different, and lonely” after her illness. 

“It wasn’t until I discovered sports at a Variety Club camp when I was seven that I regained my sense of independence. I saw an opportunity to be creative and challenge myself.

“Now I have friends all over the country who have stories about how organizations like this one have given them the courage to push themselves past their comfort zones. The impact of Yes U Can can be absolutely enormous.”

George has felt that impact over and over since she founded Yes U Can. “I recently told Wayne Hunter, who is an engineer and volunteer with our fishing program, that someday I’d like to get out and ride a bike again. The next thing I knew, students at UD were designing a bike.”

Advised by Jenni Buckley, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, a senior design team is developing a hands-free steering system for a recumbent bicycle. In addition, Buckley teaches a junior design class, where another group is designing an assistive rowing system for people with physical disabilities. 

She views the two projects as the start of a long-term collaboration with Yes U Can and a great opportunity to teach students about innovative, human-centered design.

And that is exactly what George and her board of directors like to hear. 

“Partnerships are one of the most important parts of Yes U Can,” said State Rep. Michael Ramone.  “UD has done so much for Vickie and this organization.”

About Yes U can

Yes U Can Corporation was founded to increase inclusion, awareness, and access to health, recreation, and physical fitness opportunities for people with limited mobility and disabilities by developing assisted activity programs, forming strategic partnerships, and providing valuable resources to the community.

Current programs include healthy eating workshops, individualized exercise, swimming, sit and be fit, fishing and wildlife adventures, hiking, and outdoor environmental programs. The organization plans to add sit-skiing, rock wall climbing, zip-lining, boating, chair tai chi, yoga, scuba diving, karate, and art. A Paralympic sports club is currently in the works.

Yes U Can’s partners include the University of Delaware, Christiana Care PMI, the Developmental Disabilities Council, Delaware Swim and Fitness, the Brandywine YMCA, Easter Seals, the MS Society, the Aquatic Resource Environmental Center, EMS Wilmington, Bike Line of Newark, and the New Castle County Department of Community Services – Garfield Park Activity Center.

For more information about Yes U Can, contact Vickie George at 302-286-1399 or via email at info@yesyoucanusa.com, or visit the website.

Article by Diane Kukich

Photos by Doug Baker

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