Gold Rush

August 1, 2012, Department, by NRPA

Public and military recreation programs create Olympians.Lauren Kintzing, 23

Boulder, Colorado
2012 Paralympian
Paralympic Swimming/400-meter freestyle

"Growing up I was always active and involved in sports. It wasn't until I was 8 that I joined a summer league swim team through the Boulder Rec Centers, which then led to me getting involved in a private club year-round swim team. I also went to many athletic summer camps when I was younger held by the Boulder Rec Centers which helped me experience multiple sports and in the end confirm that swimming was my favorite out of all of them. If it wasn't for the many options of club and rec swim teams available to me, I'm sure I wouldn't be as committed or in love with the sport of swimming as I am now.  I was under the direction of some fantastic coaches that helped me build my skills/technique and become the swimmer I am today.  I became such a water fanatic that not only did I spend a lot of my time at the athletic club training, but I also worked there as a lifeguard so I could spend more time outside around the water, watching other kids fall in love with it. 

I believe that public recreation programs are important in getting kids interested in sports because it allows kids of all ages to find an activity to fall in love with that keeps them active. Also, it can carry throughout their lifetime as a great way to stay healthy and in shape.  I think public programs also give an equal opportunity to everyone to experience what it’s like to be a part of a team and as well as help build social relationships and friendships with others their age who share their same passions and interests."

Jazmin Almlie-Ryan, 30
Katy, Texas
Future Paralympian

"Houston Parks and Recreation's public/military adaptive recreation programs within the Houston Metropolitan Multiservice Center have had a profound impact in my involvement, interest, and success in every sport I play. They have provided direct access to competitions, provided a daily training location, and presented me with resources that have allowed me to pursue my ambitions to represent the United States of America and individuals with disabilities.

I actually found my passion for shooting at a local event called Metal and Muscle. It is a unique, amazing event we run each year at the George R. Brown Convention Center where all of our Paralympic adaptive sports programs are featured under one roof and made available for anybody to try. I was there primarily to play wheelchair basketball. After the last game was cancelled, I decided to try air rifles for the first time. That one opportunity given to me opened the door. I won the small match, from there was invited to a Paralympic training camp, and the rest is history. Without this particular event and the opportunities it provides, I would never have known of my potential in this sport.

I am currently coaching and managing an adaptive air rifle program for Houston's Metropolitan Multiservice Center run by Houston Parks and Recreation.  The target participation is for veterans with disabilities. I have offered my services with hopes to develop and market the sport and increase its participation in the Houston area. Its teachings and practices aid in developing discipline, concentration, and control over one's body (something vital for individuals with disabilities) and it provides a sense of accomplishment for its participants. I also volunteer for our local summer adaptive sports camps for children with physical disabilities. I feel it is my responsibility to be a peer and role model for our younger generation's disabled athletes and aid in providing the same opportunities and access that I have been given.

I feel that public/military programming is vital for the disabled community. It provides opportunities for individuals of all athletic levels, not just elite athletes. The mental, physical, emotional, and social benefits that programming of this magnitude provides is insurmountable. It can be life-saving/changing (especially for individuals with disabilities). Being a part of its growth has been a very personally rewarding experience for me, and I look forward to many more years of involvement."

Elizabeth (Lisa) Patricia Gomez, 30
Boca Raton, Florida
2004 Past Olympian
Women's Soccer, Mexican National Team

"My entire childhood I was involved in recreational sports leagues,” says Gomez, perhaps not surprisingly as the daughter of Mickey Gomez, CPRP, recreation services director for the City of Boca Raton. 

“I started swimming when I was 5 years old.  I also participated in local recreational soccer, basketball and softball league, tennis camps, and track,” Gomez continues.  “I was exposed to several sports and I was able to decide at 14 years old which one I wanted to focus on and dedicate the majority of my time to--soccer.”  

Gomez passed along her skills as a youth girls’ competitive soccer coach from 2009-2012, and she currently runs private sessions for girls who have the passion and desire to develop their soccer skills and knowledge of the game.

SPC Justin Lester, 29
Akron, Ohio
2012 Olympian
Greco-Roman Wrestling

SPC Justin Lester is a Greco-Roman Wrestler with the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), a program designed to provide soldier-athletes with the support and training they need to compete successfully in national and international competitions leading to Olympic and Paralympic games while maintaining a professional military career. At least nine WCAP athletes and coaches are participating in the London Olympic Games.

Lester got his start in wrestling as a child in the North Akron City League. “I started wrestling in the third grade,” Lester recalls. “My older brother started wrestling to stay out of trouble, and he forced me to participate in practices. After a couple of years of taking beatings, I started winning and loving the sport.”

Lester, a five-time U.S. national champion and five-time U.S. world team member, will make his Olympic debut in London. He says he will accept nothing less than getting his hand raised and hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” played at the end of the day. Adding to the pressure is his desire not just to compete for his country, but for his fellow soldiers whose lives are at stake every day.

“One goal and one goal only,” Lester says. “An Olympic medal. Not even an Olympic medal, I need gold.”

SPC Dennis Bowsher, 30
Dallas, Texas
2012 Olympian
Modern Pentathlon

Another WCAP athlete, SPC Dennis Bowsher fell in love with swimming as a child at a city swimming program in Dallas. While at a swimming competition in 2002 at age 19, he learned about a modern pentathlon training center in San Antonio and decided to give it a try. Modern pentathlon consists of five sports: fencing (epée), swimming (200-meter freestyle), equestrian (show jumping), and running three 1,000-meter laps with target shooting in between each lap. Not all of the sports were as familiar as swimming.

"I was afraid to get on the horse for that first time," Bowsher told the Dallas Star-Telegram. "It's funny, the first time I shot a gun and rode a horse was when I started training. And I grew up in Texas."

But within a year, Bowsher won the junior nationals, and he was U.S. National Champion in 2011 and 2012. Bowsher is able to train full time through the WCAP program.

“I’ve always seen myself as an Olympian, but I never would have guessed it would be as a modern pentathlete,” Bowsher says. “I am very thankful for every opportunity and the support that has led me to accomplish this dream.”