On the basketball court, Quiani Miller’s post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety don’t flare up.
In a wheelchair, she also can move well despite degenerative conditions in her back and knees.
The Army and Air Force veteran, who served in Kuwait and is medically retired, last played hoops back in high school. This month, Miller was finally dribbling again as part of Get Set 4 All, a growing adaptive sports program for local wounded warriors, veterans and disabled adults, youth and seniors.
“It was absolutely awesome,” said Miller, 34, sitting with her service dog after a game at the Fort Monroe Community Center in Hampton. “I was so focused on just going, moving, turning and figuring out how to shoot that it was actually relaxing.”
Get Set 4 All, based at Fort Monroe, aims to help everyone find a way to participate in activities that bring them joy and a sense of freedom, said co-founder Andy Pai, a Marine veteran and volleyball coach.
The nonprofit also integrates able-bodied volunteers into its contests.
“We look to people’s pasts and ask what they loved to do,” Pai said. “Too many have gone down into a depression mode, but when they realize they can do these same things again – just in an adapted way – it is life-changing. Actually, it is life-saving.”
The power of play
Founded in 2016, Get Set 4 All has built a weekly adaptive sports program through partnerships with multiple agencies, including the Wounded Warrior Project, Project Healing Waters and Youth Volunteer Corps of Hampton Roads.
Students from local colleges also have pitched in to help, while the City of Hampton has provided space in the Fort Monroe Community Center.
Current offerings include wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, pickleball, yoga, dance, Zumba and Boccia, a variation of bocce that involves throwing balls close to a target ball.
Programs are open to caregivers, family members and friends, too.
“The connections built in these programs are so important,” said Georgia Monsam, Recovery Care coordinator with the Navy Wounded Warrior program, as well as the grandmother of an autistic child. “I have come to believe that recreation therapy really can save their lives.”
Incorporating able-bodied athletes promotes an environment of inclusion, which has driven the spread of adaptive sports worldwide, added Linda Gomez, co-founder and president of Get Set 4 All, who has coached at the Warrior Games and for USA Volleyball.
More colleges have scholarships for athletes with disabilities, Gomez noted; she also hopes local secondary schools might join to create a league.
“We want to put everybody on the same playing field,” she said. “Everyone has something to contribute.”
Finding a “different normal”
A recent day of games had all the usual sounds of a spirited sporting event: dribbling basketballs, spiked volleyballs, friendly trash-talking and plenty of laughter.
Quiani Miller, sweaty and happy, noted that when her contact lens fell out at one point, she simply popped it back in and kept rolling.
“What else would I do?” the Hampton resident said with a grin. “I mean, I wasn’t about to stop playing.”
Able-bodied youth players, meanwhile, also had a blast.
Jaden Moore, a 13-year-old Newport News student and member of Youth Volunteer Corps, tried sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and yoga.
“Basketball was definitely the hardest because I had to learn how to control the chair,” Jaden said. “Scooting around in volleyball was really fun, and yoga was really nice. I liked being able to play with everyone and bring joy to others.”
A number of Get Set 4 All athletes have competed on national teams and at high-profile international competitions, Gomez said.
She would like to keep expanding the program into the community, as well as raise money for more equipment such as wheelchairs and adaptive power rowers and boats.
“There is such a need in our area, and so many benefits for all,” she said. “So, the more people we can pull in – the more we can make this the norm in our neighborhoods and schools – the better.”