Sports help active BWACs 'get on with life'


HOPE AND concern for the other fellow springs out of Jim Leatherman's conversations and actions. Founder of the Baltimore Wheelchair Athletic Club, this 30-year-old athlete, volunteer, husband and father says he is filled with the desire for those who have a disability to understand one thing.

"It is to understand that a disability has to do only with that individual's acceptance. A person must be willing to accept and to deal with his disability and get on with life, no matter what his age. And then he'll have peace," says Leatherman, who did just that. At age 6, he says, "a train ran over me in East Baltimore and I lost both legs." He has made his life full, happy and giving.

Leatherman founded the non-profit BWAC in 1983, "essentially to expand opportunities for the sports-oriented disabled."

He calls the club's athletes the B-WACs. Its 12 men and two women are Keith Lewis, Malcolm Whyte, Jim Turner, Kit Nugent, Andy Tacka, Ann Reed, Ron Shaffer, Dennis Bozzell, Duane Spencer, Wayne Beachy, Joe Wheeler, Laura Hofmeier, Dave Gesswein and Leatherman.

He says, "We are just people getting involved, friends knowing friends, and when a newly disabled person joins us, we are so glad for him or for her, as we see them take the opportunity to discover the importance of involvement and to learn they can be a part of an athletic life. Sharing experiences, real positive sharing, is a way to adjust," he says.

The B-WACs compete with wheelchair basketball teams from all over the East Coast. Leatherman says "there are about 200 such teams nationwide."

Basketball isn't the B-WACs' only sport. They also snow and water ski, play racquetball and softball, hold track and field trials and compete in other sports.

"Volunteers and new members are welcome to join us whether they are athletically inclined or not," he says.

"We need volunteers to help with all aspects of the games, and we need other help such as someone who knows how to plan and run fund-raisers. We need a sponsor and we also need the money from a fund-raiser to buy a van to get us to games. Each of us is responsible for our transportation, and that's not always easy, especially for games out of town," he says.

Leatherman and his wife, Nancy, live in Perry Hall. They married in 1986, and Nancy and their 2-year-old son, Benjamin, attend all XTC of the B-WACs' practices.

Nancy and members' wives, Vivian Lewis, Maria Whyte and Nancy Spencer, plus several who date some of the players, help out with scores and other jobs at the games.

Leatherman works for the Social Security Administration, and his spare time is spent in wheelchair basketball and volunteering.

On the Speaker's Bureau of United Way, "I tell audiences about the different programs and the support the United Way offers," he says.

As a volunteer police sergeant with the Baltimore County Police, "I may be the only such officer in the country, on the traffic detachment issuing parking citations to help enforce wheelchair parking laws. In a car equipped with hand controls, which any other officer can also use, I carry my wheelchair on the back seat, and if I see a violation, I can get my chair out and me in it in a hurry," says Leatherman, who gives the police department about "20 hours each month on evenings and weekends."

With his team, he volunteers to speak to public school students about being disabled. "We go out, particularly on Disability Awareness Day, and speak. The team members all have jobs and when they are taking the time to go out and speak, each one takes that time as vacation rather than ask for a special consideration," he says proudly.

The Baltimore Wheelchair Athletic Club welcomes members, volunteers and sponsors. Write to BWAC at 4019 Putty Hill Ave., Baltimore 21236, or call 882-9055.

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