Interview with Wheelchair Athlete Joseph Anthony Lara

July 26 marks the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was signed into law on July 26, 1990. This important civil rights law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.  

As our commitment to the ADA, we ensure that every scholar has opportunities to participate and succeed in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. Anthony Lara is a student-athlete and rising sophomore at IDEA Edinburg College Preparatory. As a freshman with experience playing a variety of wheelchair sports, Anthony is showing his peers that with the support of his Team & Family, sports are an opportunity for every student to excel regardless of ability. He is paving the way for wheelchair athletes at IDEA to represent their schools in competitive sports.  

Read more about Anthony’s journey as a wheelchair athlete and how the IDEA Team & Family is supporting athletes of all abilities.

 

When did you begin participating in wheelchair sports?                                  

Five years ago, I attended a Spina Bifida Day event at Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio where my mom met the Program Director for Wheelchair Basketball. My mom encouraged me to try out the sport and the following week we attended what would be my first practice. At first, I disliked the idea and was upset with my parents for making me go to this practice. I fell in love with the sport, and it allowed me to be competitive (which I love).                         

What wheelchair sport is your favorite and why? 

This is really a tough question because originally, it was wheelchair basketball but now that I have participated in other events like powerlifting, I enjoy that as well.  If I had to choose, I would say wheelchair basketball would be my favorite sport because I love the game. I love that I can play and participate, but the competition is what I like the most. Through this sport, I have traveled to play throughout Texas and in other states as well. I’ve been able to visit states like Oklahoma, Colorado, Tennessee, and Georgia and cities like Chicago, Dallas, San Marcos, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. I have met many different people and have learned a lot.   

How did IDEA support the efforts to represent your campus in UIL’s Wheelchair Division this year?                           

This year, my parents and I attended a sports clinic in Wimberly, Texas to participate in field events so I could be a part of my school’s UIL Track & Field team.  My parents contacted my campus and my coaches from Texas Regional ParaSports came down to meet with my school coaches.  This was all new to my campus, so they had to contact UIL and my coaches from TRS to ask questions.  I qualified to advance to the State Meet for Shotput.  My mom, Coach Kevin Saenz, and Coach Aida Gonzalez were great about making it come together. Kerri Villarreal, IDEA Regional Athletics Manager, advocated for me to attend state and Nicole Guerrero worked with my coaches to ensure a smooth process. Coach Saenz was always willing to do what it took to get me to compete and both the teachers and students at my school have been very supportive.   

How are you paving the way for future wheelchair athletes?   

I want students to see what I am doing and to know that regardless of who you are, you are able and capable of being an athlete.  It is not about the disability (or obstacles they may feel are there), but about the ability.  I want future wheelchair athletes to know that just because there is a disability present, the disability does not define the person. The person defines the disability.  I believe that sometimes, people think just because we use a wheelchair, we can’t play sports, but I want people with disabilities to know there is a lot out there they can do!  I want students in the future to have the same opportunities and support any athlete would have.  

How can schools or sports teams learn to foster an inclusive environment for athletes of all abilities? 

Schools or sport teams should provide all students a chance to be part of the athletic program.  It may not involve playing a sport, but it can be being a manager, being a cheerleader, selling snacks, being part of the team or keeping score.  What matters is that they are part of the team.  This past year, Coach Eduardo Alvarez gave me the opportunity to be the JV basketball manager and it was a great season!  When people understand they need to look at the person first and not their disability, ideas begin to change. I am glad I have supportive parents, family, friends and a community that supports me.  Always remember it’s about ability not the disability!  

 

Did you know that the ADA National Network is a free resource that provides information and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act? Learn more about the resources you can access here: https://adata.org/national-network 

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