Photo by Baron Cao
BY ADAM ROGAN
As difficult as it may seem, it is still possible to combine what you love with a potential career.
Over the past two semesters, Drake fifth-year senior and Men’s Soccer starting goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod has committed 10 hours of weekly volunteer work at Courage League Sports (CLS), an “adaptive sports and recreational sports facility.”
Based in Urbandale, the non-profit serves 1,000 people monthly. It organizes and hosts athletic games and competitions for kids and adults with any form of disability—physical, cognitive or emotional. The activities are oftentimes adapted so that as many people can participate as possible, such as using joystick-controlled wheelchairs for soccer and basketball or bringing in specialists to teach swimming, biking and even horseback riding in an accessible way.
MacLeod focused mainly on working with kids. He said that school systems oftentimes aren’t good at making sure kids with special needs develop at the same speed as their non-disabled peers. His work with CLS helps close that gap.
“(Courage League) allows (participants) to develop with other individuals who may develop at the same pace,” MacLeod said, “so they can learn functional (skills) and then also have that social skill.”
Much of MacLeod’s role as a volunteer is being a coach and mentor to those he works with.
“(Volunteers) come in and act as teammates with our participants and help us out through our programming. But more importantly, they really foster that social piece of just talking with them and social interaction,” Courage League Founder and Executive Director Melissa Clarke-Wharff said, “and Darrin really embodies all of that. He’s done a great job for us, being here, taking the initiative and getting to know all of our participants.”
Several times throughout the Men’s Soccer season, kids from Courage League attended Drake home games at the Cownie Soccer Complex where they were able to take the field during halftime or after games to take shots on goal, a change from the indoor gym at CLS’s headquarters.
MacLeod isn’t the only athlete to get directly involved, however. Just about every player on Men’s Soccer, as well as Women’s Basketball and Softball, has devoted at least a handful of hours to CLS.
“I just think that we have a responsibility to have a broader influence and those guys, they do that,” Men’s Soccer head coach Gareth Smith said. “That’s part of what we’ve been doing these last 12 months, building these community relationships … To be honest, that’s more important than soccer.”
And even if the Bulldog volunteers are Division-I level athletes, they still sometimes struggle to keep up.
“We’ve also played wheelchair basketball … and we’ve got guys on our team that are athletes and, after three or four minutes, we’re absolutely exhausted,” MacLeod said, “and there’s individuals there who are competing for the Special Olympics and things like that make us look absolutely foolish. It’s a cool experience to try something new and makes you appreciate (what you have and) put those things into perspective.”