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Students With Special Needs Sharpen Warrior Skills

Zachary Lee Students with various disabilities gathered April 21 for ninja training.

Teams of students with special needs, ranging from developmental to intellectual disabilities, rushed into the field house at Sand Creek High School, where they discovered an adapted obstacle course based on the popular NBC television program “American Ninja Warrior.”

“The best part about this course is that we can adapt it for anyone,” said Josh Thurmond, National Sports Center for the Disabled program manager. He had built a lot of the equipment in his garage.

“Everyone participates on the same level, and we see full-on breakthroughs — kids who never participate, we see them moving. We want them to live a life that’s full.” Several of the participating students were part of District 49’s Elevates program, which assists youth 18-21 years old with their transition out of high school.

NSCD Moves! is a new event offering a custom obstacle course designed to help anyone exercise ninja skills, regardless of developmental or cognitive disabilities. After the course became available for any location late last year, it quickly reached various student and veteran groups in Colorado.

“For many, it’s so different from what they do each day,” said Thurmond. “We throw them off their center, so they learn to take risks in making choices.”

Thurmond said the event was born out of a need for a mobile and adaptable obstacle course. The ninja theme was adopted knowing local youth are frequently familiar with “American Ninja Warrior,” which leaps into its seventh season this summer. Colorado athletes have competed in the action-packed series.

Sand Creek High School’s more than 9,000-square-foot field house provides an ideal venue, said Thurmond, while glancing over the gymnasium-like facility. He had spent the day assisting high school and middle school teams. Students were jumping, balancing and crawling, as well as refining their coordination, depth perception and flexibility.

Carlos Atencio A four-person NSCD crew, along with seven student volunteers, cheered and applauded competitor efforts. After everyone completed the course, their supporters averaged each team’s individual scores to announce event champions.

“I want people to feel good about themselves,” said 10th-grader Carlos Atencio, 16, a student volunteer. “I’m proud of them. And I really had a fun time.”

Bonnie Mendenhall, adapted physical education teacher, described the event as a confidence builder.

“We’re seeing kids do things today that are out of their comfort zone,” said Mendenhall. “They’re taking on challenges. They’re trying new things.”
Dustin Senger