What you can do: Center for Independence helps those with disabilities enjoy activities

Leroy Wilcox, right, gives a tennis lesson to a player Thursday at Lincoln Park during the Center for Independence’s final adaptive lesson of the season. The Center for Independence helps people with physical, mental, developmental or sensory disabilities play many sports, including tennis.



The Center for Independence is hosting a benefit concert and silent auction July 31 at Grand River Vineyards. The concert features Flat Top Reed and begins at 7 p.m. For more information call 241-0315.

Leroy Wilcox sums it up best when it comes to the Center for Independence’s approach to athletics.

“It’s not your disability, but your ability,” Wilcox said. “We don’t focus on what you can’t do, we focus on what you can do.”

The Grand Junction Center for Independence has been offering adaptive tennis lessons since early May at Lincoln Park’s tennis courts for anyone with a physical, mental, developmental or sensory disability. The adaptive tennis lessons were every Tuesday and Thursday with the season-ending tournament this Saturday at the Western Slope Special Olympics at Canyon View Park.

“This is all about getting people out,” Wilcox said. “This is the end of the tennis, we’ve been going about three months and it finishes up on Saturday.”

Wilcox has used a wheelchair since 1980 after a spinal injury he sustained in a traffic accident. Wilcox now works with the Center of Independence teaching any sport someone with a disability wants to try.

“I’ve seen these programs grow a lot in 30 years,” Wilcox said. “We’ll get out and try any sport.”

Although Wilcox helps with much of the coaching, the organizer of the adaptive tennis lessons and other adaptive recreation is the Center of Independence’s recreation director, Jane Newton. There are around 50 members that participate in the COI recreation department.

“The recreation is extremely important because they feel part of a group and they are welcomed,” Newton said. “But recreation is important for someone whether they have a disability or not.

“It helps their health, their clarity of mind and when we stay inside and don’t get active, we tend to get depressed, so getting out and exercising helps people feel better about themselves.”

Like Wilcox, Newton is also in a wheelchair. Newton suffered a spinal cord injury at birth, and after using forearm crutches for 30 years, she’s been in a wheelchair for 24 years. Newton said sports and recreation has always been a part of her life.

“I’ve always been a really active person. I skied when I was younger and have plenty of scars from skateboarding when I was real young,” Newton said. “At first I was afraid to sit down in a chair, but when I did, it opened up a whole new area of sports like basketball and tennis.”

Newton’s passion for sports allows her to provide great leadership for the Center for Independence. The COI offers recreation and activities throughout the year.

“We do bowling, basketball, shuffleboard, horseshoes,” Newton said. “Our hope is someone grows enough that they meet a new friend then call the friend outside of our activities and start recreating for themselves.”

The center does more than just recreation. It’s focused around independent living situations for someone with a disability.

“Fifty-one percent of the board has a disability so it’s really a center of people with disabilities for people with disabilities,” Newton said. “Our goal is to help them learn community and social skills to be able to get out and be a part of their community.”


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