Playing for all
Disabled Athlete Sports Association marks 20th year of getting everyone into the game
By Brett Auten
Back in 1997, Kelly Behlmann was just trying to make it through that first week.
Fast forward to today and her creation, DASA (Disabled Athlete Sports Association), is celebrating its 20th year in existence. Behlmann’s official title is Executive Director but she is more like the heart, brain and soul of DASA.
“I never envisioned it getting this big,” Behlmann said. “It has been a wonderful adventure.”
Back when she launched DASA, Behlmann dreamed of providing an affordable service to her “kiddos” that emphasized the abilities each child had rather than focusing on their disabilities.
Located in St. Peters, DASA’s mission and vision is that all of those who live with a physical, visual disability, or deaf or hard of hearing, will be given the opportunity to participate in sports and fitness activities designed to improve self-esteem, growth and well-being while instilling family values.
While DASA maintains its original goals and core values, the organization has since expanded into a successful sports club, grooming national champions, international record-breakers and Paralympic gold-medalists. Along the way, DASA has also started community education programs, personal care training and social outlets for youth with disabilities – as well as their families.
DASA is a nonprofit organization and its athletes are encouraged to seek their highest level of independence and become involved to the fullest extent with their non-disabled peers and their community as a whole. Its programs introduce both children and adults to activities that promote physical fitness, self-confidence, family values and a positive, team-building environment designed to encourage personal growth throughout all aspects of life.
The slow and steady growth came via word of mouth from its athletes which eventually trickled to physicians and therapists. It has grown to the point to where DASA has a staff of six full-time coaches/exercise therapists, year-round programs and hundreds of volunteers.
Alana Treppler, a St. Peters resident, is one of DASA’s cheerleaders. Treppler has had her daughter Lauretta involved in DASA for seven years.
“At first I was very skeptical,” Treppler said. “I was very protective of Lauretta.”
Lauretta, who is 15, has tried pretty much every program available from archery and tennis to functional fitness and swimming. She was born with an underdeveloped cerebellum which affects her gross and fine motor skills. Three years ago Lauretta delved into the Functional Fitness program and her confidence has grown exponentially along the way.
“They never cut (Lauretta) any slack, which I love,” Treppler said. “It’s how you have to be. You can’t baby these babies. She gets treated like a typically developed child. They make her bust her butt while she has fun. DASA has exceeded my expectations. Kelly, the coaches, the volunteers genuinely love the DASA kids. It’s like having a family of 300.”
Jim Landlie, of Troy, has watched his daughter, Katie, evolve from just trying out swimming to track and field to now a member of the U.S. Women’s National Sled Hockey team. Katie, 19, has been involved with DASA since soon after her amputation.
“DASA has given her a sense of accomplishment and avenue to be an athlete,” he said. “They have taken her off the sidelines and put her in the race.”
The Landlies’ involvement with DASA is over-reaching as Katie’s sister, Kelsey, has become a DASA counselor.
But DASA isn’t just all about children.
“DASA started as just children and then the children became adults and we kept and developed programs for them,” Behlmann said.
“DASA also welcomes all disabled veterans and disabled members of the armed forces to participate in our adult programming. In addition to our normal programming, DASA provides veteran specific clinics in a variety of sport and fitness opportunities,” Behlmann said. “For example, DASA’s Warrior Workout offers a personalized fitness training program that provides an opportunity to continue physical activity after therapy, to become active and physically fit, and to enhance strength and performance specific to a sport. The one-on-one personal training sessions are individualized to each client’s needs and fitness goals. We incorporate every aspect of physical fitness (cardiovascular, muscular strength, muscular endurance, balance, and flexibility), and our workouts contain a large variety of activities and exercises.”
Looking forward for another 20 years, Behlmann would like to see DASA expand to downtown St. Louis and to the west toward Columbia.
“We would like to expand our services to places that might not get pediatric physical therapy or has adaptive sports,” she said.
Behlmann’s infectious, can-do attitude is at the center of the DASA principals.
“I have high expectations therefore the people around our kiddos and adults do as well,” she said. “If you give them the opportunity to do their best they’ll jump at it. It’s very satisfying and it keeps me driven.”
For more information, including a complete list of programs and volunteer opportunities, visit dasasports.org.
CUTLINE: Photo by Ray Rockwell Pictured (from left) are Lauren Krebs, Meghan Morgan, Kelly Behlmann and Jenny Parker at DASA headquarters in St. Peters.