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Saturday, September 30, 2023

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San Diego State University Adapted Athletics San Diego State University Adapted Athletics

San Diego State Adapted Athletics Program Names New Director

Paralympian and SDSU alum, Ahkeel Whitehead, has been named the new director of the newly recognized San Diego State Adapted Athletics Program.
By Lainie Fraser

San Diego State University has named its first head of adapted athletics, a program that aims to provide disabled athletes with the opportunity to compete at a national collegiate level.

Ahkeel Whitehead (’17) is now director of SDSU Adapted Athletics, the first program of its kind in California. Whitehead was an SDSU undergraduate while preparing for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He trained at the nearby Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Chula Vista. He feels however, that adaptive athletes striving to reach their highest potential while in college should have the support of their university.

“It felt strange competing at the world stage and not representing San Diego State,” said Whitehead. “At the time, there wasn’t a way for student para-athletes to train at SDSU when I was studying and competing, and it felt like a missed opportunity.”

When Whitehead returned from Rio in fall  2016, he learned about a newly formed and recognized student organization, Aztec Adaptive Sports. The mission of the student organization was to increase awareness of adapted sports in the community, with the  goal of starting a competitive adapted sports program at SDSU.

Whitehead worked closely with the organization’s advisors Kathy McCarty, a former Adaptive Fitness Clinic Instructor, and Antoinette Domingo, an assistant professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, to achieve this mission.

In January 2018, the Aztec Adaptive Sports team, with the support of community partners, worked to put on an adapted sports showcase featuring elite-level para-athletes from across the country, with more than 300 people in attendance. This showcase opened the doors to more conversations about university support for an adapted athletics program. 

In fall 2018, SDSU Adapted Athletics was created and became a sanctioned part of the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences and the College of Health and Human Services. At the same time Michelle Cross, an ambulatory track and field athlete, enrolled at SDSU and became the program’s first athlete.

Whitehead was selected as Program Director for the SDSU Adapted Athletics program in February. The position provides Whitehead the support and recognition he needs to build and expand the program. He said he is thankful for the position because it allows him to put 100 percent of his effort towards building this program in order for it to be successful and sustainable.

First in the State

SDSU is now one of just 13 programs in the entire country designated to adaptive athletes to compete at the college level. 

“There are many opportunities for recreational level adapted sports in our community, but our program would allow student-athletes to play competitively across the country against other universities and colleges,” said Whitehead. “We want disabled athletes to have the same chance to compete as able-bodied students, much like those in our Division 1 Athletics program.”

A long-term goal of the program is to be able to support other colleges and universities across the state and country to build similar programs, and provide opportunities to anyone with a physical disability access to sports programs and all the benefits that come with playing competitive sports.

Committed to the Future

More recently, Hollister Incorporated, an Illinois-based healthcare products company, committed $100,000 over five years to the  SDSU Adapted Athletics program. The goalis to help recipients be successful student-athletes and to help recruit prospective students.

“We are honored by Hollister’s tremendous support because now we are much more competitive with other universities with well-established adapted sports programs,” said Whitehead. “Hollister heard about our cause, believed in it and told us, ‘We are rowing this boat together now.’”

In his new role with a new program and financial support, Whitehead said he plans to grow the program and help student-athletes achieve their personal and athletic goals. 

“I am thankful for the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences for putting their stamp on this and standing behind us. Without them, this program wouldn’t exist, and I am thankful for the current and future student-athletes, as well as our coaches,” Whitehead said. “SDSU Adapted Athletics is here and I am excited to see who else we can help be the best representatives of our diverse university.”