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Cover Story

Paralympic soccer club at Morgan's Wonderland opens new doors

Photo: Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Steven Gilmore

Jada Cano and Makayla Adams practice power soccer.

Photo: , License: N/A

Makayla beams at power soccer practice.

"Sometimes when you make a goal it feels like you're winning, but it's not about winning and losing, it's just practice," says Brett following the scrimmage. After positive experiences with fencing, baseball, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, in addition to track and field events, he is eager to dive into a new sport despite his impairment. Brett seems smitten by soccer and reveals that his favorite part of the game is that "you get to challenge yourself and it gets harder and harder."

"Wheelchair sports have definitely improved his confidence," says Valerie proudly. "Especially going to school where other kids sometimes don't really understand. He can show his trophies and his pictures and that kind of lets other kids know 'you guys might think that I can't do things but I can play basketball.' It's just a little bit different."

"Brett is very enthusiastic and a very nice guy," adds Coach Jackson. "I can see him in the future as being one of my very, very big stars on the team. He's got a lot of energy and takes direction well. I just hope to see him continue to come out. If we can get him to come out, we can teach him all the things that he'd like to learn."

With aspirations to one day compete in the Paralympic Games, the second largest sporting event on the planet after the Olympic Games , it's difficult to imagine Brett not returning to master yet another sport. Enchanted by a game where goals come quickly and with fury, he looks right at home.

The next evening at Morgan's Wonderland's S.T.A.R. Soccer Complex, the Paralympic Games are on the mind of another young athlete as he takes the field for Ambulatory Futbol. Draped in full soccer regalia, 16-year-old Daniel Velasquez soaks in the scene as dusk begins to settle on Longhorn Quarry. Bathed by a cloudless sky, the plethora of manicured green fields are dotted with jerseys of all colors, worn by players from all backgrounds and ages. A crisp breeze sweeps through the grounds as scores of youth kick, leap, and shout as they run through specialized drills.

Coach Smith welcomes Daniel to the field and he quickly bursts into motion, a brightly colored ball dancing with his nimble feet. It's not too long before he punctuates the dance with a goal, briefly spreading his arms as if to fly, before pausing to point to the Team U.S.A. shield covering his heart. Beloved at the International School of the Americas he attends, this field for Daniel is unlike any other he has played on due to the inspirational STRAPS program that has embraced him.

"It's so beautiful when you have your family and friends here, and especially at STRAPS, where it's an even playing field," says Daniel glistening with sweat from a fresh run. "Before when I played soccer, I'd kind of feel a little bit down in the back of my mind knowing that I was at a disadvantage from all the other kids. But to be able to come out here to STRAPS and be able to play and know that what I'm doing is level with what everyone else is doing, it's really great."

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