GARDNER, Kan. — The Korea ParaSports Association of U.S.A. and the 1st National Paralympic Games Organizing Committee hosted the inaugural K-Friends Adaptive Sports Festival over the June 17-18 weekend in the Kansas City metro.
KPUSA was founded for children and adults with disabilities to share and experience joy through sports competitions. The purpose of this Paralympic games is to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion in athletics by hosting integrated events where both abled and disabled athletes can participate together.
Athletes and their families gathered in KC from three countries and over 20 U.S. states for the weekend event. It kicked off Friday with the Opening Ceremony and was followed by competitions on Saturday.
Athletes competed across 19 different sports including cultural sports like Hangung and Taekwondo.
Sohui Un, an athlete from Olathe, has been practicing Hangung for several months to be at the competition. She hopes other people who are disabled will see her compete and be encouraged to dream the same.
“To have faith and hope and they can do it, too,” Un said. “It’s an honor. It’s an honor to be here."
The creators of the games say the purpose of the festival is to break cultural and historical stigmas around people with disabilities. In every competition, it is all about fostering and encouraging individual success.
“When we discovered Special Olympics, it really helped him to achieve the level that he wanted to achieve and compete at the level that he was comfortable competing,” said Jackie Choi, mother to a son with a disability. “I guess for the Asian culture, it is known that if your child has a disability, they usually stay home. They don’t do anything. And by being active in sports, I realized that he also has goals he wants to achieve and he’s getting there step by step.”
Jimin Choi, an athlete who competed in track and table tennis, believes society still has a long way to go in overcoming societal barriers. But having events like this is a good place to start.
“It’s not true that people with disabilities can’t do anything. They all have exceptional talents,” Jimin Choi said.
Jimin Choi lost his right arm while serving in the Korean Navy in 2009. He fell into a deep depression after being honorably discharged from the ranks, but sports helped him change his outlook.
“It’s one of the ways I can be involved in society,” he said. “You can’t go through life alone, so sports has taught me how to connect with people. It allowed me to help and be helped by others.”