As ground zero of the disability rights movement, the city of Berkeley sets a historically high bar for disability activism. Torre Meeks, coordinator of Cal’s Inclusive Recreation program, believes the program has lived up to these expectations despite the hindrances of a pandemic.
Meeks has journeyed through uncharted territory with enthusiasm and grace as Cal’s first full-time inclusive recreation coordinator. “It’s been really fun to be able to trailblaze, in terms of new programming and campus involvement,” he said. “There are so many possibilities and directions for inclusive recreation can explore.”
In almost two years at Cal, Meeks has stayed true to his word and helped expand the program’s offerings to new heights. For one, the program added wheelchair basketball to a lineup of adaptive recreational sports in 2019 that also included goalball and CalStar Yoga, the latter of which is an adaptive yoga course designed for students with mobility impairments. The Inclusive Recreation program is equipped with 10 PER4MAX wheelchairs, which were available for students to rent and utilize during open gym hours. In order to publicize wheelchair basketball, Berkeley Recreational Sports hosted a showcase before social distancing restrictions were enforced. Meeks also invited guest Paralympic athletes as well as coaches from the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program to help implement programs at Cal. Furthermore, Meeks and his team have expanded the use of assistive devices and equipment in the Recreational Sports Facility. While the population of students without disabilities may not be directly affected by these changes, Meeks maintains that inclusive equipment is imperative in creating a welcoming environment for students with disabilities in sports.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily suspended in-person access to many adaptive sports, including wheelchair basketball. Restrictions have also derailed plans to create a wheelchair basketball DeCal and expand goalball beyond the introductory DeCal courses.
In the face of these setbacks, Meeks and the Inclusive Recreation program transitioned certain aspects of their program into a virtual format. They have incorporated live seated yoga classes, similar to the CalStar Yoga model, into the existing catalog of recreational online classes. Furthermore, the Accessible Wellness and Empowerment program’s services, which provide free, personal training to qualifying students with disabilities, are also offered virtually. After the scrutinized shutdown of the No Limits program in 2019, the Accessible Wellness and Empowerment program was launched in order to reaffirm Inclusive Recreation’s commitment to serve students regardless of income level. While Meeks declined to state how much grant funding the Accessible Wellness and Empowerment program received, the program guidelines guarantee that athletes will continue to be supported until funding is exhausted.
Although inclusive recreational sports faces many challenges in the context of the pandemic, Meeks believes the worst is behind it.
“The biggest challenge was definitely the initial transition to virtual services,” Meeks said. “With so many different economic factors and ability levels to consider, it’s hard to create a diverse array of programs to meet the many needs of Cal’s disabled community.” And as the team transitions into the fall with the virtual foundations of its program laid, Meeks is confident his team has the creativity and capacity to continue adapting.
As for the in-person return of Inclusive Recreation programs, Meeks cannot give any solid answers. Since many of the programs require physical assistance and coach supervision, it’s unclear as to how CalStar Yoga, wheelchair basketball and goalball can resume while maintaining social distancing restrictions. Nonetheless, Meeks’ ambitions for his athletes are unfettered by the obstacles of a pandemic.
“I’m hoping to elevate our sports teams to the next level.” Meeks said. “I would really like to get deeper into the level of play, given we’ve seen the same committed athletes every week.”
For students looking to get involved, Meeks claims that the best way the student body can ensure the success of these programs, both virtual and in-person, is by participating.
“All of our sports programs are open to everybody, whether it’s goalball, virtual yoga, you name it,” he said. “We’d never turn anyone down from these programs, and I’d encourage all Cal students to come out and try something new.”