I was born in Fresno and grew up here, as did my husband and my parents. I'm thrilled to be raising my young son here too! I've gone away for school and spent brief periods in other parts of California, but have always ended up homesick for my hometown.
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4 p.m. is go time at Break the Barriers.
I’d arrived for my tour at 3 p.m., during a slight lull in the action. Chief of Operations Jared Hergenrader informed me I’d just missed the veterans. A dedicated group comes in daily, as BTB is one of only three Adaptive Sports Facilities that caters to veterans in California.
As we chatted, kids started streaming in. Chatting in groups, some were walking, some moved in wheelchairs, and some were striding along on one or two prosthetic blades. I felt somewhat foolish being wowed because inclusion for everyone while challenging abilities and possibilities is just another day for the Hergenrader family and the crew of staff and volunteers at Break The Barriers.
A Personal Journey Inspires the Creation of Break the Barriers
Break The Barriers is a Fresno institution. It began when Deby Mullen Hergenrader, a National Gymnastics Champion, was inspired by her sister Kathy’s journey. Kathy was born with Down Syndrome, and learned gymnastics initially by emulating Deby. Eventually, she progressed to winning multiple gymnastics medals in the Special Olympics.
What began with Deby’s personal quest for inclusion of all abilities through athletics has grown by leaps and bounds to become an amazing and ever-growing demonstration of ability awareness here in Fresno and beyond. The Break The Barriers performing teams routinely inspire people of all abilities across the country and throughout the world.
A Program For All Interests & Abilities
During my tour, Jared and program director Kyle Carlson took me through the whole facility. While watching a quick video presentation, I noticed the mirrors and springiness of the floor and realized the auditorium and performance space doubles as a dance and movement space. A good thing too, because they’ve already outgrown it as a performance venue!
Every room in BTB does double or triple duty, and for good reason. Over 26 different programs are taught here, from Archery to Swimming, Martial Arts to Gymnastics, Reading to Sign Language. There are also groundbreaking Veterans, Buddy, and Hope programs.
The sprawling facility is anchored by an expansive gymnastics floor. As we watched a group in action, Jared discussed BTB’s practice of teaching some sign language as part of the curriculum. Once again, the ultimate goal is inclusion, giving people of differing verbal abilities the means to communicate with their classmates.
The facility also includes a great chill-out area, originally intended for kids on the autism spectrum when they get overwhelmed and need a minute.
As we were chatting, Kyle was asked to demonstrate a gymnastics move. He excused himself, and 15 seconds later was vaulting effortlessly into the air, to the admiration of the kids on the mats. Then it was right back to business as usual, as the tour must go on!
I checked out the gym, a physical therapy room, and an area for more studious pursuits. The teacher was already in there, setting up tablets for the next reading class. The kid taking lessons in the outdoor pool gave us all a cheery wave as we passed by.
Velociraptor Target Practice
The only empty room in the facility was the archery area, which has targets on every wall and, well, a velociraptor in the corner.
I just had to ask about the proverbial elephant in the room (AKA the velociraptor), and they explained that it’s used as a moving target, particularly by those with vision challenges. They can track the velociraptor and base their aim on auditory cues.
In order to figure out how to teach the skill, Kyle said the instructors spent quite a bit of time practicing shooting arrows at the velociraptor while blindfolded. Just another day at BTB!
How to Get Involved with Break the Barriers
Ready to get inspired?
Break The Barriers is located at 8555 N. Cedar Ave, Fresno, CA 93720. Give them a call at (559) 432-6292 to schedule a tour, or ask about their upcoming classes and day camps. You can also check out their website at http://breakthebarriers.org/.
[All photographs provided courtesy of Break The Barriers. Used with permission.]