• Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

In Louisiana, fostering community is the name of the game for adaptive sports athletes and coaches

ByMary M. Ward

Oct 17, 2022

Stéphanie Lamparez does not want this recognition. Or so says her daughter Alexandra Baddeaux, who accompanied her mother to the WWNO station in New Orleans on a hot summer day in August.

“She wants to promote the program and promote the team, but she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight,” Alexandra said. “She would be happy to continue working on the sidelines without any recognition.”

Stephanie, or as many of the athletes she has coached call her, “Mama Steph,” is perhaps the biggest advocate for athletes with disabilities in the entire state. Her journey to this community began shortly after she graduated from the University of South Alabama with a physical therapy degree and began working in the school system in her hometown of New Iberia. That’s when she discovered adaptive sports. “There was a teacher from APE who said, ‘Hey, we have a track and field event coming up, can you help me with some kids? recalls Stephanie. “They needed help positioning themselves in their wheelchairs to participate. It was in 1991.

Stephanie Lamparez

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National Junior Championships meet in Chicago, 2010

Today, more than 30 years later, Lamparez is still a coach. Although she may not look like your standard athletic trainer. With long silver hair and a soft, soothing voice, it’s hard to imagine him yelling at young athletes to “pick up the pace.” This is because his form of training focuses more on finding the best sport for each athlete while considering both their strengths and limitations.

“Whether it’s a racing wheelchair or a throwing chair. Or what would be their best sport? Is it athletics or should we steer them more towards archery? she says, sharing examples of what she considers. “Looking at the child as a whole, his movements, his spasticity, his strength. And how can we help them do their best? »

Boy with immobilized right arm shoots bow with his mouth

Stephanie Lamparez

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Archery competition at the National Junior Championships in Phoenix, Arizona, 2012

Lamparez began her coaching career with Games Uniting Minds and Bodies—’GUMBO’ for short. Today, she is president. And many athletes who have competed say Lamparez has stood up for them both on the field and in the classroom.

According to Anne Marie Herbert, “If we needed something in our daily school life or if we didn’t get something, she knew who to talk to or raise the issue with.

Herbert is a high school student from Denham Springs, a suburb of Baton Rouge. She said many people with dwarfism like her are often encouraged to participate in Special Olympics, or simply not encouraged to participate in sports. But Lamparez assured there was a place for her at the more competitive Paralympic level. Soon, Lamparez had Herbert compete in events like the long jump and the javelin. Events that Herbert says she “never thought she could do”, but “she really learned to love”.

girl jumps in a long jump competition with a woman watching

Anne-Marie Hebert

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Anne Marie Hébert competes in the long jump.

Another of Lamparez’s former athletes, Ryan Conley, competed in GUMBO Sports for 14 years. A Farmerville, Louisiana native who has cerebral palsy, Conley recalls how “Mama Steph” helped boost his confidence on and off the track.

“Before each encounter, she would tape me up with kinesio tape and make sure my muscles were relaxed,” he said. Of course, as a trained physiotherapist, Lamparez always made sure her athletes were stretched out and comfortable. But perhaps more importantly, Lamparez would drive Ryan, along with his other athletes, all over the country for competitions.

“If we have a meeting that lasts more than 12 hours, they will come to my house the night before,” Lamparez said. “Then we all load into the van and drive 12 hours to the meet.”

boy wearing #239 running on a track

Stephanie Lamparez

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Over the past 30 years, Lamparez has coached, recruited, transported and advocated for hundreds of disabled athletes throughout Louisiana. Including his own children, Nico and Alexandra.

Both were born with cerebral palsy and both competed at the para elite level. In fact, it was Nico who introduced his mother to another athlete – Hagan Landry – at a high school cross-country competition.

“Nico came to me,” recalls Landry. “And then Stephanie Lamparez came up to me and told me about the Paralympic Games.”

Landry, suffering from dwarfism, was quickly introduced to the shot put. And Stephanie started taking her to clinics and meetups across the country. After years of intense training, Landry made it to the Paralympic Trials and then to the 2022 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. He received a silver medal in the men’s F41 shot put.

But soon after his big win, his mind returned to Lamparez.

“I went back to the village and sat on the balcony and really thought, ‘If I had never run across the country, Steph would never have found me. And I’m really grateful for that.

Track runner celebrating, holding an American flag behind him
Hagan Landry after winning a silver medal in the men’s F41 shot put at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But when Lamparez sees the success of one of her former athletes, she’s hardly surprised. And while the pandemic may have interrupted her coaching career for two years, she plans to bring another team of athletes to next year’s National Junior Games in Birmingham. Because when she looks at all the athletes she has coached over the years, she sees all they are.

“They are disabled athletes,” she said. “But first they want to be known as an athlete who has a disability. I always tell them you can do whatever you want. You might have to do it differently. You might need more time to do it. ‘learn. We may need to modify. But you can do it.

Two children hold a sign saying: Gumbo Kids The Best Of Louisiana

Stephanie Lamparez

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Stephanie Lamparez’s children, Alexandra and Nico, wave the GUMBO flag at the Junior Nationals meet in Tampa in 2005.