The athletes fought hard for dominance on the basketball court on a Spring Saturday in Markham Park as the audience cheered. Nearby, sailors and waterskiers prepared to launch in the lake, while first-time scuba-divers were helped into the pool for their lessons, and cyclists lined up for a race. Just a typical day at the park…until, upon closer look, one might notice that these were not your typical athletes. Today was not a typical day at the park. And at the center, running the whole show, was former pro athlete Ray Shipman.
This special day was the 4th Annual Adaptive Sports and Recreation Expo presented by the Memorial Regional Hospital Rehabilitation Institute of Hollywood. And although all of the almost 300 athletes were in some way hampered by an injury or disability that required special equipment or support to get them going, their levels of devotion, intensity, and competition were on par with sportspeople anywhere.
When Miramar-raised Shipman was signed by the New Orleans Saints in the 2013 NFL draft, he thought he had his future set. But an injury cut his professional career short, so Shipman, who had never had a job outside of sports, used his smarts and his contacts to start a non-profit, ChampionShips Inc., which, among other things, teaches how the skills of sports — dedication, tenacity, discipline — translate into business and other parts of life.
“The NFL is a business,” he stated. “And football is not for long for anyone. You need education. After sports is over, it’s time to go into the real world, and get a job, and when you’re in sports you don’t have the opportunity to have a job. So I started doing these community-based camps and seminars, bringing former athletes that are now successful in business or politics to discuss how to interview and focus on transferring these intangible skills to the business world.”
These skills came into play for Ray himself, when, after his own injury, he had to look for his first job. With some trepidation, he applied for the job, as Manager of the Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program at the Memorial Regional Hospital South Rehabilitation Institute.
“My wife and I went back and forth on this one, because it was a management position, and I was applying mostly to entry level ones,” he said. “But there was something about it… I just knew I could do it. I was able to talk about my work with the community organization — the only work experience that I had — and I got the job.”
Up until his first day, though, he thought he was going into an existing position. Imagine his surprise when he learned that he’d be creating the program from scratch.
Today, the Memorial Rehab Center is a 12,000-square-foot, two-story gym on Washington Street, plus four outpatient locations throughout Broward. The gym contains a vast range of state-of-the-art adaptive equipment that allows and trains people to regain abilities and strength after strokes, lost or injured limbs, traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, various congenital conditions, and other illnesses that affect mobility or ability to function. There are handcycles, specialized wheelchairs for sports like tennis and basketball, and training for adaptive bowling for both pediatric and adult patients, cycling, mountain biking, rowing, water aerobics, fishing, and even rugby! Currently, the Memorial Rehabilitation Institute treats more than 1,900 patients per year and the numbers are growing.
One of Shipman’s biggest accomplishments in his job is the creation of the Rehab Expo, held each Spring for patients, former patients and anyone in the outside community who would like to participate. Hundreds of people with disabilities come to play or compete in sports from the expected like basketball and hand-cycling to others including adaptive soccer, disk golf, fishing, sailing, scuba diving, water skiing and flying remote control airplanes.
“This is about encouraging people with disabilities to stay fit and stay active with people. Sometimes people with disabilities will go into their room and become depressed and feel hopeless. We want to prevent that,” said Shipman. “Our goal is to make sports and recreation activities available to all.”
To that end, the program partners with multiple outside organizations and strives for community involvement. Often, participants in the rehab program go on to volunteer and coach others. In fact, the center opens its doors every Friday for Adaptive Fitness Fridays, inviting both former patients and the general physically disabled community in for an invigorating and fun group workout with a trainer.
This has been a big year for Shipman. He got married. Became a father. Wrote a children’s book. He was named Caregiver of the Year for the State of Florida by the Florida Hospital Association. He completed his MBA in Sports Administration, and got a promotion at the Hospital.
“My new job, as Director of Sports Medicine and Adaptive Sports at the Memorial Rehabilitation Institute, entails growing the business for our new Sports Medicine Center,” he said. “Our aim is to provide the highest level of care to all patients who wish to perform at their personal peak for physical activity, especially after an injury. We treat college and professional athletes who need to get back on the field in a timely and safe manner while regaining their prior high level of performance. We treat “weekend warriors” who may want to get back to their sports league or high-intensity gym workout. We also treat seniors who want to remain active in activities such as golf or tennis, although we have certainly treated those who participate in much more vigorous sports as well.
Shipman explained that the Memorial Sports Medicine Center is the first of its kind in Broward County, offering a multidisciplinary collaboration between top-notch specialists in orthopedic surgery, physiatry, cardiology, family medicine, as well as ancillary services such as physical therapy, sports nutrition, and sports psychology. Working seamlessly within the Memorial Healthcare System, patients navigate from diagnosis to treatment to recovery under a unified treatment plan that is continually being discussed amongst team members and optimized based on the individual condition and treatment goals.
“Our goal is to make sports and recreational activities available to all,” said Shipman. “Adaptive sports provide numerous long-term therapeutic benefits, in addition to enhancing quality of life and improving overall health. These activities are not just fun but very important for people with disabilities to know that they can do anything they put their minds to. We treat the person, not just the injury. We hope we can give even those with permanent injuries a new outlook.
“Our motto is Go Beyond. You see it in our marketing, our signage, on our staff t-shirts. We say it and we live it. Go Beyond your perceived limitations. Life is not over because you have an injury. Go Beyond what you think you’re capable of, or the limitations others place on you, and don’t ever let your current physical situation dictate the quality of your life,”
For more information on the Memorial Rehabilitation Institute, visit https://www.mhs.net/services/rehabilitation/treatments/types/adaptive-sports
Or click on any of these links for videos:
For info on the Rehab Expo, visit www.mhs.net/RehabExpo.
For info on ChampionShips, click here
Or just call Ray Shipman, he’ll tell you all about it. 954-518-5573