November 27, 2014  

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Nationally Ranked Wheelchair Athlete Delivers New Chairs, Conducts Clinic

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Harlon Matthews, a nationally ranked wheelchair athlete and representative for Eagle Sportschairs, conducts a tennis clinic with 16-year-old Emily Tillman of Long Beach. Matthews traveled from Georgia to deliver four new sportschairs to The University of Southern Mississippi Technology Learning Center Office of University Communications photo by Charmaine Schmermund.

Excitement came in the form of new wheelchairs at the Technology Learning Center (TLC) on The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. Four new sportschairs -- the largest order received since Hurricane Katrina -- were delivered to the TLC by Harlon Matthews, a nationally ranked wheelchair athlete and representative for Eagle Sportschairs.

Purchased using a $9,500 grant provided by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, the TLC was able to purchase three different kinds of sportschairs. One tennis wheelchair, one racing cycle designed for track and field sports, and two all-court chairs allowing the user to play a variety of sports, including basketball, tennis and football.

“The opportunities are endless with this new equipment,” said Ashley Nicole Ross, recreational therapist for TLC. “We can travel the state allowing our clients to play on different teams and to compete.

“Recreation sports and fitness are important for the well-being of all people. This project is a way to insure that people with disabilities on the Gulf Coast have the same opportunities as others to participate and enjoy popular sports in healthy leisure activities.”

Grants, like the one from the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, allow for more than the purchase of new equipment. Ross said they also include the services of sports instructors, clinics and sportschair maintenance. Additionally, TLC coordinator Dr. Sara Jackson learned from previous experience that grant proposals should be written to include travel opportunities for clients using the equipment.

“In order to really benefit from the entire experience, our clients need financial assistance to travel to regional or national competitions,” said Jackson. “This allows our clients to interact with other people, to compete and to test their skills. At times, they have to gather in places that are sometimes a great distance from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

In delivering the equipment from Eagle Sportschairs, located just outside of Atlanta, Ga., Matthews also made the trip twice as special for the TLC by conducting a tennis clinic with the center’s clients. One of the clients, 16-year-old Emily Tillman of Long Beach, tested the new tennis wheelchair in a match against Matthews and found that the new chair responded better than the one she used previously.

“You have to keep the momentum because once you stop the chair and try to get going again, it’s really tough,” said Matthews. “You want to keep moving and keep pushing, because that’s 80 percent of everything – moving in the right direction. The big thing is to stay moving which you can transition into everyday life.

“This is a great opportunity to deliver some chairs and be able to provide something for the community,” added Matthews. “This is also what TLC is about. They are reaching out to people with physical disabilities so they can get out there and be part of the program.With Eagle Sportschairs and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the similar names kind of fell into place, but it seems like the eagles are really soaring today.”

For more information about the Southern Miss Technology Learning Center, call 228.214.3400.