Welcome to the story of Athletes Roll. The stars of the story are Anthony and Lisa Jennings, residents of Londonderry, New Hampshire. Anthony has Becker Muscular Dystrophy, a neuromuscular disease that progressively weakens his muscles. Anthony transitioned into a power wheelchair when he started college at the University of New Hampshire to maintain his independence. At this point, he was introduced to a sport specifically for power wheelchair users called power soccer. Excitedly, he started playing for the Northeast Passage Wildcats based out of UNH.
The Wildcats were a young power soccer team, gaining experience at every practice and tournament. After a year of new adventures in the sport, Lisa, Anthony’s mother, attended a Wildcats’ game wearing a shirt from Under Armour that read “Athletes Run.” Since she is not an avid runner, she wore the shirt not to showoff her workout skills but to match her new pink sneakers. Once she started watching her son’s team play that day she realized her mistake: the kids and adults she was watching were athletes in every sense of the word, but they could not run like other athletes. She felt terrible at her mistake and thought the players and families would think she was being insensitive by wearing the Athletes Run shirt. Not many people noticed (and those that did told her they found it funny) but she had a brilliant idea amidst her panic. She had her husband take a picture of her wearing the shirt with the power soccer players in the background so that she could suggest a new idea to Under Armour: “Athletes Roll” shirts to support adaptive athletes!
Two months after sending in the proposal we heard back from the manager of the Under Armour Innovation Lab who said they were touched by the story and would see what they could do. And what they did was truly amazing! While they couldn’t take on a new clothing line, they took the time to make a customized Athletes Roll logo (which we still use today) and made 50 Athletes Roll shirts for all of the athletes, coaches, and family members on Anthony’s team.
In the fall of 2015 it was announced that the Northeast Passage Wildcats were going to the US Power Soccer Association Founders Invitational in Wooster, Ohio the following summer. This was their first major tournament so there were new entry fees, equipment, and travel costs they needed to consider. Anthony came up with the idea to sell Athletes Roll shirts to fundraise for the team’s trip. We expected to sell mainly to close family and friends but were amazed to see how excited people were. We ended up selling a couple hundred shirts significantly lessening the costs for Anthony and his teammates. Before the Wildcats had even rolled on to the court, our fundraiser showed the power of adaptive sports to so many people. We knew at that point we wanted to continue spreading this exciting message and help the world of adaptive sports grow.
In May 2016, Athletes Roll was created. Days in advance of the Founders Invitational Tournament in June we hopped on social media, prepared (very makeshift) fliers, and got our (smartphone) cameras ready for the trip out to Ohio. While I don’t think we could ever truly be ready for our first event, the Founders Invitational tournament was extremely exciting. It was one of four national tournaments held in 2016 by the United States Power Soccer Association, with one for each division of power soccer in the US. [Check out the results of the four tournaments here.] It was the first national tournament for the Northeast Passage Wildcats, but they’ve been back every year since, moving up to the Presidents’ Conference in 2017 then the Championship Conference in 2019, one step away from the top tier!
That summer, we aimed to learn as much as possible about adaptive sports and help to spread the word. We participated in the annual MDA Muscle Walk in New Hampshire to speak with families affected by muscular dystrophy, watched excitedly as the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil were broadcast on TV more than they ever had been before, and joined many local adaptive sports organizations at an Intro to Paralympic Sports held by Adaptive Sports New England. Since then, we’ve continued to spread our message of the importance of adaptive sports to people with and without disabilities. We’ve expanded to new sports including sled hockey, wheelchair basketball, and adaptive racing, spoke at roundtable events with the JETT Foundation, and have continued selling our shirts to raise money for the incredible adaptive sports organizations in our area. We hope to continue growing and spreading the message about these amazing sports and hope you’ll join us along the way! Follow along on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, check out our resources and adaptive sports pages, and keep checking back here for updated articles! If you’d like to be the first to hear about new posts from us, hit the subscribe button below! Thanks!