The visit to Boulder by the Sports for At-Risk Youth Delegation was sponsored by the Congressional Office for International Leadership (COIL), an organization that we have worked with since about 2010, when it was still known as the Open World Leadership Center. The group arrived on Friday evening, October 28, and they met their host families and had dinner at the Gondolier restaurant in Boulder. The visitors were Alifbek, an assistant coach for the Tajik National Soccer Team; Farhod, a school teacher from Khujand, who works with a high school wrestling team; Fotima, a young woman who is one of the best kick-boxers in Tajikistan; Khamza, the director of the Bokhtar American Space, one of eight in Tajikistan, whose job involves showing Tajiks what life in America is like; Parviz, Chairman of the Tajikistan Paralympic Committee; and Mukjammadmasrur, the facilitator, who is himself an athlete.
City Councilman Bob Yates had arranged for the group to go to a football game at the University of Colorado on Saturday. We went to the Tailgate Party, where the delegates could get something to eat and drink. Councilman Yates introduced the group to Chancellor Phil Di Stefano and Leslie Smith, the Chair of the Board of Regents, the governing authority of the University.
Councilman Yates then accompanied us to our club seats, high above the football field. Joe Day, one of the host parents, and I did our best to explain the rules to the visitors. Because it was a cold evening, we left after the first half. The group enjoyed the game and the experience.
As we usually do to kick off the week, we hosted a reception on Sunday evening at the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse. Councilman Yates met us there, as did Erika Blum, the representative of Congressman Joe Neguse of the 2nd District of Colorado, the host families, and other members of the Boulder community.
Each morning, we began our day at the Chautauqua Dining Hall, owned by the City of Boulder and, like the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse, managed by Lenny Martinelli. Traditionally, we have gathered at the Teahouse, but they no longer open at 8:00. The delegation was accompanied, except for Wednesday, by two members of the Board of Directors of the Boulder-Dushanbe Sister Cities, Rett Ertl and Joe Stepanek.
Our program, designed by Board Member Jeff Magnuson, began on Monday morning with a visit to the East Boulder Community Center of the City of Boulder, where we were greeted by Bryan Beary, Community Building and Partnerships Manager. Bryan gave us a tour of the swimming pool, weight room, and meeting rooms, and introduced us to Lori Goldman, the Director of the Expand Program, whose mission is to enhance the lives of people with disabilities through the fun of recreation while promoting development and growth through programs.
After lunch, we went to Bixby School, a private elementary school. One feature of Bixby is a swimming pool, which they consider an asset in improving the physical and mental health of its students. After a tour of the school, we spent some time learning how the swim program is run.
From there we were off to Big City Mountaineers in Arvada, where we met Executive Director David Taus. Big City Mountaineers is an organization that works with young people with mental issues. BCM works with high schools to determine which students might benefit from their programs, and then sends them on a ten-day trip into the wilderness, where they realize that they can do things that they didn’t think they could, and, as David put it, they realize that they “belong.” BCM provides backpacks and other equipment that they will need, and guides to accompany the campers. Despite the name, they do not do any mountain climbing.
On Tuesday, we met with the Director of Athletics of the Boulder Valley School District, the Athletic Director of Monarch High School, and a Monarch teacher who is in charge of sports for the disabled and also coaches the girls’ volleyball team. They explained their program for people with disabilities.
The athletic director told the group about a basketball game in which students with disabilities participated. The school invited all of the other students to watch the game, and the students rooted for both sides. The athletes were excited that people were rooting for them, and the spectators were excited that they could make the disabled students feel good.
We went on to meet with James Brown, the ADA coordinator for the City of Boulder. What could have been a boring, bureaucratic discussion turned into a lively conversation between Parvis, who is a double amputee in a wheelchair, and Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown started by telling us that he is responsible for working with designers of new City buildings, as well as enforcing the Act’s provisions in private enterprises in Boulder. In the latter case, they do not generally inspect premises for violations, but if a citizen reports an issue, they follow it up. Parvis had several questions regarding how all of this was done. The other delegates seemed interested in the questions and answers.
One of the most interesting aspects of this visit was unplanned events. Alifbek and Fotima went with Alifbek’s host father, Dennis Berry, to see Craig Alston, the assistant coach of the University of Colorado women’s varsity soccer team. Alifbek had commented that in Tajikistan, you have to choose whether to be an athlete or a student, and wanted to know how we in the U. S. combine the two. Alifbek asked many questions, and listened carefully to what Craig had to say. He will talk to Tajik universities about developing soccer programs. [Note: two weeks after this visit, the Tajik national soccer team played the Russian national team to a 0-0 tie.]
The group was given a VIP tour of the CU Recreation Center by Center Director, Tony Price. I assume that the delegates were as impressed as I was. The Center includes several basketball courts, an impressive weight room, tennis courts on the top of the building, an ice-skating rink, a soccer field, and a climbing wall. As we toured, Tony showed us adaptive sports equipment. They are just developing their program, so they showed us a new shipment of basketball wheelchairs, a sit-skate on which amputees sit to ice skate, and an adaptive weight station, where Parvis was able to test the weight lifting equipment. While we were there, Alifbek went out onto the soccer field, and one of the CU students asked who he is, because he is really good. He only took one shot on goal, but he dribbled the ball on his foot for several minutes.
Interestingly, the rec center seems to establish adaptive policy at CU. They hope to grow their program to include competitive and recreational sports and fitness programs.
The second unplanned event was a visit to the Easton Training Center in Boulder, which conducts classes in kickboxing. Needless to say, this was of great interest to Fotima, but she was joined by Mukhammadmasrur, and Khamza. They all spent a couple hours at the Center, including an hour in an intermediate kickboxing class. Fotima, a professional kickboxer, gave a demonstration, showing the group how it is done.
On Wednesday, the group spent several hours at the U. S. Olympic and Paralympic Center in Colorado Springs, accompanied by Joe Day, one of our host parents.
The training center is located on 36 acres of land that was formerly an Air Force base. Parviz had several questions and comments about how paraplegics, like himself, can use the equipment. They visited the Peter Ueberroth Athlete Center that houses 100-150 athletes, and heard a talk about how the organization is structured.
They returned to the Visitor Center, where Fotima presented their hosts with a special ceramic bowl from Tajikistan.
That evening the delegates presented their biographies and work to their American hosts. This gathering, at the home of Joe Stepanek, gave us an in-depth idea of the delegates’ upbringing, and of what they do in Tajikistan. Perhaps the most interesting comment was by Parviz, who said that he has learned a lot about leadership, and plans to run for parliament next year, and after that, perhaps run for president of Tajikistan. When a few of us chuckled, he said that he was serious.
The Corner Boxing Club is an organization that I did not expect to find in Boulder. The club, run by Carrie Barry, former captain of Team USA, feels that all members of the community should be able to experience the joys of boxing. They are proud of their developmental program, which trains children from the ages of 8 to 15. Many of the children in the program are from families that can’t afford to pay, and the Club is reimbursed by the city of Boulder for their fees, under a special program offering recreation to children whose families cannot pay. Some of these children go on to become competitive boxers.
Corner Boxing Club also takes great pride in their Rusty Gloves program, for seniors and people with Parkinson’s. They feel that these programs give seniors the feeling that they really can do things that they never thought possible.
The final unplanned event of the visit was a quick sparring session at Corner Boxing. Several of the group asked if they could put on boxing gloves and go a few rounds. Rather than allowing them to actually spar, our hosts put Mukhammadmasrur in pads, and let several of the delegates take swings at him. Fotima, of course, took a few kicks at him as well.
The visit to People for Bikes was perhaps the least relevant of all the presentations that we received, but the group was still interested in learning about bikes in the United States. The host gave us a slide presentation, showing all of the advantages of riding bikes, especially compared to cars.
The most interesting slide was the one that discussed obstacles to wider bike use. Our host pointed out that some cultures consider bikes to be unworthy. Minorities often consider it not masculine enough – they prefer macho motorcycles and cars. Some of the delegates agreed that Tajik youth (especially males) do not normally ride bicycles.
After a long ride in the bus on the previous day, the group was happy that the snow that fell on Thursday afternoon would cause us to stay in Boulder, rather than traveling to Rocky Mountain National Park. They had seen the Boulder-Dushanbe Teahouse at Sunday evening’s reception, but wanted to have a meal there.
Fortunately, Ian Stafford, the Director of Stewardship and Policy at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, lives in Boulder, so was happy to join us for lunch at the Teahouse. The noise at the Teahouse made it impossible for him to actually give us his presentation, but the group learned a little bit of what they do, and how they incorporate young people into their program.
Khamza was filming a series of videos for American Space Bokhtar, where he is Director. Specifically, he wanted to get a few words from City Councilman Bob Yates, even in the snow.
On Friday morning, we visited Ignite Adaptive Sports, one of the oldest adaptive ski programs in Colorado. We were given a warm welcome by several of the many volunteers at their operations base at Eldora Ski Area, in the mountains about 20 miles west of Boulder. They told us of their history, and more importantly, of their army of over 200 volunteers, who help people with disabilities experience the joy of skiing. The volunteers monitor blind people, amputees, and people with debilitating injuries. They showed us their inventory of specialized equipment, including sit skis. They helped Parvis into one of those, and gave him a ride on their snow-covered deck.
Several of the volunteers said that they would be happy to go to Tajikistan and help establish an adaptive program at Safed Dara, the only ski area in Tajikistan, some 40 miles from Dushanbe. We will look into coordinating such a visit, although it would involve contacting the management of the ski area itself, and coordinating with the Tajik adaptive community.
Finally, the group was introduced to the members of the Boulder Rotary Club by Jancy Campbell, former president of Boulder-Dushanbe Sister Cities, and a member of the Rotary Club. They saw how a club like that operates, and how they organize fund raisers for a variety of causes.
Unfortunately, their flight to Frankfurt was cancelled, so they had to spend one more day at a hotel near the Denver airport, and had to fly through Kazakhstan on the way back to Dushanbe.