Andrea de Beni

The project: Adaptive Academy

What is Adaptive Academy? What is your role?

Adaptive Academy was born in Turin from the encounter between a need, that is the desire to multiply the number of hours of sport that people with disabilities can do on the national territory and three people, with the desire to build something concretely inclusive: mine, as creator and communicator as well as disabled athlete, that of Carlo Mazzola – philanthropist in the Charity field and referent of the Mazzola Foundation – and Luca Casciello, manager of La Mole Sports Academy, multi-disciplinary gym in Rivoli (TO).

The combination of these three realities has produced a project that was created to study and disseminate adapted training methodologies, able to allow people with physical and cognitive disabilities to practice sports together with people without any disability: at the same time, in the same place, with the same coach, in the same ‘class’. In addition to the obvious physical benefit and self-awareness of the person with a disability, there is also greater knowledge, inspiration, identification and “normalisation” of the disability on the part of those who do not live with a physical or cognitive difficulty, through a “two-way” exchange, which is characteristic of inclusive activities.

In a social context which has perhaps arrived too quickly at the concept of the disabled-superhero, building a normal approach that makes differences less impactful, restores a sense of community that achieves the simplicity of the initial objective: multiplying the time spent playing sports.

What most distinguishes your daily activity? How does this impact on the city you live in, Turin, and on your country?

In a year of life, Adaptive Academy has trained over twenty people with disabilities: paraplegia, limb amputations, cerebral palsy and autism were the first contexts of action. CrossFit, climbing, calisthenics, self-defence, yoga and brazilian ju-jitsu were the ‘channels’ used to build specific adaptations for people.

But the project was not created to be delivered only in a physical location: we want to create a community of more aware trainers and gym owners, real professionals of adapted training. In order to do this, we created a two-day course and were able to receive CONI (Italian Olympic National Committee) certification: coaches who pass the final exam can apply to the project for funding to support subscriptions and lessons for their disabled athletes, who are then “relieved” of the costs of doing sport.

This creates a real community all over the territory, with Adaptive Academy “outposts” scattered all over the territory, with coaches aligned on guidelines, methodologies, athletes’ needs and how to adapt to everyday life. The impact on the city is enormous: alongside the bout twenty athletes who received the direct provision of the service, we should considered as “impacted” also all the non-disabled people who trained daily with them and who changed their way of perceiving sport for the disabled, disability, sports in general.

To these people we must add all the students we met during the year (over 5,000 throughout Italy) who came into contact with a new way of understanding sports for the disabled and disability. These boys and girls of all levels and classes recount their experiences at home, with their families, and the athletes affected by a disability became a testimonial and disseminator of emotions, sensations, stories and virtuous enterprises, which speak of limits, obstacles, errors, difficulties, victories and defeats, making the new generations more aware.

What three adjectives would you use to define your activity as a local hero?

Revolutionary. Our goal is to erase inclusion. To get to a point where it no longer exists in the way we have accepted it up to now: normalising means equalising, allowing everyone to enjoy their sporting experience by reducing distances to the point where they no longer have to be declared. This is a new concept, but it is also the goal we have set ourselves as Adaptive Academy: we adapt, we include to the point of erasing the difference in terms of effort, stimulus and results.
Vulnerable. Vulnerability is the permission we give ourselves to be affected by the things that happen to us and should not be confused with weakness. Ours is a ‘strong’ project in terms of knowledge delivered but it starts from the humble point of view that every human being is different and that every form of knowledge can enrich a project by importing its own peculiarities. Nothing we do is born not to change, but it changes all the time: a coach who suggests a new method, an athlete who discovers new forms of movement, prosthetic limbs that differ from each other and allow different approaches… Everything changes so quickly that if you are not vulnerable to change and welcoming towards others, even the best of projects can only be short-lived.
Vital. Sport is a language, it is the context in which we feel we are spending our efforts. But it is only a means, not the end. We chose sport because it is the context in which we grew up, the one that made us and makes us feel good, but everyone has their own ‘sport’, understood as a motivating element. Because it has given us so much, we would like to spend the rest of our days giving back what sport has done for us, giving a higher meaning to our lives and – we hope – to the lives of others. Sport has always dominated our lives, it keeps us alive, it makes us think, run, walk, work. Adaptive Academy is a project linked to the lives of people, disabled and not. Both for those who provide it and for those who receive it, as if it were a gift that can, in its own small way, change people’s lives in whole or in part.