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Figueroa Brings Joy of Sports to Children with Disabilities

Oct 26, 2021
5 min Read
Ricky Figueroa smiling

The challenges faced by children and teens dealing with physical disabilities are the domain of pediatric physical therapists, and Ricky Figueroa, DPT’21, is very much in the arena.

Figueroa, a native of Thousand Oaks, California, graduated this year with a doctoral degree in physical therapy. His immersion in the world of pediatric physical therapy is reflected in his appointment as membership chair of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Pediatrics Students and New Professionals Special Interest Group, where he leads the effort to attract new members, encourages active involvement, plans events and contributes a section about students and new professionals to APTA’s Pediatrics monthly newsletter.

In November 2020, he was selected to present on the pediatrics portion of “Pediatrics, Federal, and Education” at APTA’s National Student Conclave. He takes particular interest in adaptive sports, where he works with the Disabled Athletes Sports Association (DASA) to enable children and teens to experience the thrill of sports competition, an experience that might otherwise be closed to them.

Key to that effort is the use of adaptive equipment that enables children and teens to engage in such sports activities as basketball, soccer, tennis, hockey, swimming and rock climbing.

“That’s one of the great things about working with DASA,” Figueroa says. “These kids have somewhere to go where everyone on the team is dealing with the same or similar mobility impairments.

“But they still get to say, ‘I’m on the soccer team.’ They’re always the ones who are going to this sibling’s dance recital or that sibling’s basketball game, but now they get to say, ‘We’re going to my basketball game tonight.’”

While physical therapy is widely and correctly perceived as a health science that enables formerly healthy people to resume normal activities, Figueroa says the goals of pediatric physical therapy are a little different.

“PT typically enables a return to normal if they had a sports injury or to get back to work, or maybe helping a grandparent get on the floor with their grandkids again,” he says. “But pediatrics helps that kid create their own normal. They don’t really have that yet, and you’re trying to help them achieve, to help them find their way and be a participant in life.”

Figueroa delved deeply into pediatric adaptive sports while fulfilling the “directed practice experience” portion of his Creighton doctoral program, in which students are called to focus on an area of special interest. He traveled to St. Louis where he worked with DASA.

“They have recreational adaptive sports, competitive adaptive sports and adaptive fitness,” he says. “I was there in the fall of 2020 so the competitive sports were sled hockey, wheelchair basketball and power soccer. Then they had recreational sports such as tennis, swimming, rock climbing, a bunch of different sports like that. I helped out and led some sessions.”

It was, he says, a rewarding trip.

“It’s just finding a way to help others in a meaningful way where you can see that direct impact,” Figueroa says. “When you get to see where someone is at during an initial evaluation, and then you see them meeting their goals and are about to discontinue treatment, it’s just very rewarding.”

By Eugene Curtin