A snowy day in January doesn’t deter Isaac Rigo, Spencer Kimbro and Michael Hoyt from a tough interval workout. The three are members of the team ParaSport Spokane and are training for Bloomsday. While the roads may be impassable for wheelchairs in January, that doesn’t keep these three athletes from their training schedule. This training session finds them using trainers on rollers in a medical office on the lower South Hill under the encouraging, yet perceptive eye of their coach, Teresa Skinner, who also happens to be the Executive Director of ParaSport Spokane.

ParaSport Spokane was founded by Skinner in 2013 out of a recognition that athletes with physical disabilities didn’t have competitive teams in the region to hone skills and play sports. Skinner, an Occupational Therapist, found inspiration working with athletes with disabilities during her studies in Occupational Therapy in Atlanta; the year happened to be 1996, and so Skinner had the opportunity to work firsthand with athletes at the Paralympic games. It was this experience that introduced her to the sport of wheelchair racing. Skinner moved to the Inland Northwest not long after, and started a program for individuals with disabilities at St. Luke’s before founding ParaSport Spokane.

In its few years of existence, the program has grown considerably, based in part on its openness to working with athletes with a variety of disabilities in a setting that is welcoming and encourages participation. In addition to road racing, athletes compete in track and field and wheelchair basketball. The team has sent several athletes from the region to the Paralympics. The program is free of cost and welcomes athletes of all ages; Skinner says their youngest participant is 18 months old. She says she likes it when participants start young, as they haven’t convinced themselves they can’t do sports yet.

During this particular workout, Skinner sits perched on a stool while the three athletes work up a sweat during their interval training. The atmosphere is light-hearted, yet focused, as Rigo and Hoyt gently tease Kimbro for being late (he did have to drive all the way from Moses Lake) for this practice. A fourth athlete joins via FaceTime from Boise. Skinner’s phone emits a steady beat that speeds up and slows down throughout the workout, so the athletes can keep pace through their intervals. Skinner dispenses words of encouragement and advice on form as the three begin to tire from their workout. At the end of one tough section, she congratulates Rigo, saying “you were coming off the back every time,” referring to his precise technique on his wheelchair wheels.

After more than 30 minutes, the three are sweating and tired, but since it’s Thursday, they’ll go from this practice to a strength and conditioning workout. With aspirations of a 30-minute Bloomsday this year, these athletes keep to a rigorous schedule, even if they can’t practice outside. Rigo speaks excitedly about Bloomsday and about being able to be out on the road again soon. “I just want to push and actually go somewhere,” he says. // (Jamie Borgan)

Jamie Borgan wrote about the Spokane River last July.