Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation helps Paralympic athletes go for gold

Mandy Goff is in Birmingham to help her team pursue their Olympic dreams.

Lakeshore Foundation

Lakeshore Foundation

As manager of the U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team, Goff is about to lead her team into battle for the second Paralympic Games, this year in Rio de Janeiro, with the full support of the Lakeshore Foundation, an official U.S. Paralympic training site in Birmingham for the rugby team and other disabled athletes.

“It had to be a special place for me to leave my home in Texas to be here,” she said. “My rugby athletes have trained at two different training facilities this year, and while they were both U.S. Olympic training centers, it didn’t feel like home as much as Lakeshore does.”

Lakeshore Foundation has been a special place for Birmingham since it was founded in the 1970s as a rehabilitation hospital for HealthSouth Corp. It quickly became a leading resource and advocate for individuals with disabilities throughout the community, helping them lead a healthy, active lifestyle. Today, Lakeshore is a key component of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), geared toward serving Olympic and Paralympic athletes. A number of athletes currently training in Birmingham will compete in the Paralympics in Brazil, beginning September 7.

“Birmingham is known the world over for its civil and human rights history,” said Birmingham Mayor William Bell. “Because of that, the city has totally embraced the Paralympic movement to give individuals who may have physical disabilities the opportunity to be the best that they can be.”

2016 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team huddles after practice

2016 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team huddles after practice

With its roots in wheelchair basketball, Lakeshore is a logical choice to train for the U.S. Paralympics.

“One of the very first things done back in the 70s was to start a wheelchair basketball team,” said Jeff Underwood, president of Lakeshore Foundation. “And ever since then, we’ve had a very strong connection with sports in relation to helping people with disabilities lead healthier and more independent lives. As we developed an expertise 

in sports, it pretty naturally led us to the United States Olympic Committee. Today, the Lakeshore Foundation continues to be a very strong asset.”

Individual athletes who’ve trained at Lakeshore and are participating in the 2016 Rio Paralympics include Josh Roberts, a Morris, Ala., native and Jennifer Schuble, a Homewood resident. This will be Roberts’ third time competing in the Paralympic Games, specializing in the 100 meter and 1,500 meter sprint events. Schuble is a five-time medalist in the Paralympic games and will compete in five cycling events at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

Several other Paralympic teams train at Lakeshore Foundation, including the U.S. Paralympic Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team, the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team, the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Goalball Team and the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team. The U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team, led by James Gumbert and Lakeshore’s Goff, received a bronze medal at the London 2012 Paralympics and currently holds the No. 1 world ranking. Lakeshore has played a large role in producing 52 Paralympic athletes, coaches and staff from across the country who have captured 30 Paralympic medals.

In addition to the impact Lakeshore Foundation continues to have in the U.S. Paralympic Games, the organization currently rosters more than 80 youth/adults with varying types of physical disabilities in 13 adapted sports. The foundation offers canoeing, kayaking, tennis, basketball, rugby and an injured military program for people with disabilities. The Lakeshore Foundation also has a research initiative with the University of Alabama at Birmingham to create technological advances that will make life easier for the people it serves.

Its Lima Foxtrot program is geared to help injured military members in the community. Since it was initiated in 2006, Lima Foxtrot has served over 1,800 injured servicemen and women and their families, from 46 states and territories. Through Lima Foxtrot these young men and women use lessons from sport and recreation to learn how to pursue life after injury.

The Lakeshore Foundation is a viable force in the Birmingham community through outreach and research programs as well. While training in Birmingham earlier this month, members of the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby team spent their last day of training in Birmingham visiting Children’s Hospital speaking with youth about how to overcome adversity when faced with life’s hardest battles.

“In the world of sport, the future for Lakeshore is about serving the youth,” said Underwood. “Making sure that children in the Birmingham community who have disabilities know that in Lakeshore, they have the opportunity to pursue their athletic dreams is an important factor.”

Lakeshore Foundation Exercise Facility

Lakeshore Foundation Exercise Facility

As a result, Lakeshore has been recognized for its innovative work. The U.S. Olympic Committee has awarded Lakeshore “The Rings of Gold Award” for the best youth sports program for kids with disabilities and its “Amazing Partner Award” for having one of the strongest community based sports programs for children with disabilities. The foundation has also received the “Live the Dream Award” from the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, the predecessor to the Birmingham Business Alliance, and the “Friends of Children Award” from Children’s Hospital of Alabama.

To learn more about the Lakeshore Foundation, visit its website at hereto track and support the athletes in Rio. And learn more about Lakeshore’s U.S. Paralympic Training and the athletes it serves: