Making a Splash with Special Students

Bubble blowing was among the fun activities students in the Physical Therapy Program provided youngsters at the annual Hurricane Challenge founded by Professor Robert Gailey in 1988.
By Marthy L. Brave

Bubble blowing was among the fun activities students in the Physical Therapy Program provided youngsters at the annual Hurricane Challenge founded by Professor Robert Gailey in 1988.

Making a Splash with Special Students

By Marthy L. Brave
Keeping a 30-year tradition, graduate students organize a fun-filled Hurricane Challenge for youngsters with disabilities.

The University of Miami Lakeside Patio was bustling with maritime activities, games, and music at the Under the Sea-themed Hurricane Challenge this month, when graduate students in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program hosted about 200 local students with disabilities at the annual event.

Since its inception three decades ago, the event has raised public awareness of the challenges people with physical disabilities face and, most importantly, provided scores of children from Miami-Dade County Public Schools with an exciting day of fun, adaptive activities.

Per tradition, the second-year DPT students spearheaded this year’s challenge on March 9 under the guidance of Robert Gailey, UM’s pioneering professor of physical therapy, for his course in prosthetics and orthotic devices. Graduate students reached out to community organizations for support and donations while designing and constructing an assortment of accessible games for their visitors.

First- and second-year DPT candidates arrived at 7 a.m. that brisk Friday morning to assemble the booths and stations for face-painting, human bowling, adaptive yoga, a dunk tank, and other activities. Throughout the day, each station was directed by a DPT student who made modifications to ensure every child could take part.

“This event is so meaningful because it really sheds light on the children’s true potential and actual abilities,” said Lauren Palmero, a second-year DPT student and one of the Hurricane Challenge chairs. “It’s such a joy and honor to organize an event that brings so much happiness to the children and really makes them feel like we’re including them and supporting them.”

The event has long been important not only for the children, but also for the physical therapy students who can see how much they could do for this population as future health care providers.

The DPT students funded the event by partnering with organizations and individuals in the South Florida community, including physical therapy clinics, nonprofits, and DPT alumni. Each child who participated in the day left with a quality book bag filled with prizes and treats. It was donated by the Woody Foundation, a nonprofit that supports people with paralysis. The Humane Society brought therapeutic puppies, whose company the children really enjoyed.

The Camner Center for Academic Resources, which encompasses the Office of Disability Services and is a campus partner and sponsor, hosted a booth with interactive bubbles and assorted stickers.

“Our staff truly enjoys participating in the Hurricane Challenge,” said Roopa Parasuraman Dominguez, associate director of Learning Support Programs.

Members of the undergraduate Physical Therapy Students Association (PTSA) also volunteered, interacting with the visiting students and helping them transition between the various activities.

“This was my second year volunteering and I am always amazed with how much fun not only the children have, but all of the volunteers as well,” said Allison Villane, the president of PTSA. “It was a very special day for everyone!”

Through fundraising and donations, DPT students raised over $8,000 to meet the challenge’s expenses and to donate what was left, according to Palmero, directly to Miami-Dade schools “to help the children with disabilities receive recognition for their involvement in adaptive athletics,” such as the Junior Orange Bowl Sports Ability Games and paralympic events that will take place in Miami in coming months.

The challenge is one of several service-based endeavors pursued by the University of Miami’s Department of Physical Therapy, which also has a student-run Local and Global Outreach pro bono clinic and monthly adaptive beach days in collaboration with the Sabrina Cohen Foundation.