She’s a colorful sprite, pink cleats, orange socks, her hair a flash of auburn as she waterbugs through a scrum of defenders, deftly keeping possession of the soccer ball until she emerges unscathed from the pack.
She’s a civil rights advocate. Her idol is Ruby Bridges, who was six years old that day in 1960 when she too made her way through a much more vicious mob, integrating a New Orleans elementary school.
She is Sarah Reeves. She is nine years old. She is a Cerebral Palsy (CP) soccer player who wants the world to work equally for everyone.
“Everyone” includes the Black couple who was on the receiving end of abusive treatment during a parking altercation, and to whose defense Sarah loudly and forcefully intervened. “Everyone” includes her fellow adaptive athletes, with whom she feels a sense of belonging and community.
“She’s a determined kid with lots of empathy,” says her mom, Toney. “And she loves stories of hope.”
Stories of hope is exactly what Sarah found during a Sportable-sponsored adaptive sports day in Williamsburg. “They had tennis, cycling, and soccer,” recalls Toney. “Sarah saw kids in wheelchairs and leg braces and on walkers and Sarah said, ‘Mom, those kids are just like me and we were all doing the same things!’”
That particular story was so hopeful that the Reeves family now commutes weekly from Virginia Beach to Richmond so Sarah can participate in Sportable’s CP Soccer program, where Toney sees other kids benefitting just as much as Sarah.
“The coaches are teaching them just like any other athlete,” says Toney. “They aren’t taking it easy on them, and every single kid is totally involved, and they develop a sense of belief that they can do it just like anyone else.”
And although physical activity is good for everyone, Toney knows that it’s even more important when you’re disabled. “The best thing they can do is get their bodies moving,” Toney says. “A CP kid requires many times more energy to do a task than an able-bodied kid, but they need to keep moving to keep developing.”
So: important, yes. Even vital. But also, when you see the kids in the CP soccer program, so much fun.
A recent CP soccer session ended with a game of sharks and minnows. Minnows try and keep the balls from the sharks. Lose the ball and you join the sharks. One by one the minnows disappeared, until at last there was only Sarah, juking her lone way among the sharks, grinning from ear to ear.
“She had never been the last person standing in any game her entire life,” says Toney.
And it was all Sarah wanted to talk about for days.
“Can you believe it?” she would say. “Can you believe they didn’t catch me?”
We believe it, Sarah. And we believe you’re an inspiration for all the other minnows out there willing to take on the sharks.
Written by: Christopher J. Moore, writer and photographer
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