Courage League, a gym and fitness center for youngsters who cannot participate in regular activities due to disability, illness or emotional challenges, opened its doors in Urbandale on October 9, thanks in part to a $30,000 donation from Hy-Vee.
The 9,800-square-foot adaptive sports facility was founded by Melissa Clarke-Wharff, whose 13-year-old son Jack suffered a series of strokes due to a buildup of fluid in his skull known as hydrocephalus.
Jack’s motor skills, reflexes and coordination were debilitated. For the last five years he has endured 35 surgeries and countless hours of therapy to relearn everything. But his love of sports—particularly the ones his older brother is involved in—endured. Throughout the emotional roller coaster, Clarke-Wharff met countless parents and children whose heart-wrenching stories mirrored theirs. So she and Jack came up with the idea of an adaptive center for children.
Courage League offers basketball, volleyball, fencing, archery, dance, cheerleading, tennis, exercise equipment, free weights and a sensory room.
The day-to-day operations of the facility will be overseen by Clarke-Wharff and Molly Wuebker, program director and a certified occupational therapist. During the week they provide instruction and guidance for flag football leagues, volleyball classes, tumbling classes, open gym and family nights. , Weubker will help families as they transition from medically overseen physical therapy to a life-after-therapy program.
The non-profit organization’s mission is “every child deserves to play,” especially ones as courageous as the children playing adaptive sports, Clarke-Wharff says.
“During one of my nights with Jack in the hospital, we were talking about what it would take to build something like this,” she says. “We talked about lions and courage and I told him how courageous he is and from that the name [Courage League] came about.”
For John Leder, a Courage League board member, and his 4-year-old son, Owen who was born with cerebral palsy, the facility is a blessing.
“Owen loves sports, he’s a sports nut,” Leder says as Owen kicks a soccer ball while holding onto his walker. “He’s a little boy who’s starting to understand some of the things he is going to have to overcome; now he has a place where he can run around and be a part of everything.”
Courage League will celebrate its official grand opening on November 1. Along with continued donations from companies like Hy-Vee, the facility will also require the help of many volunteers to fulfill the vision initially laid out by Clarke-Wharff and Jack.
It’s a vision the mother and son could not be more proud to see come to fruition.
“It seems like just yesterday we were talking about a name for this place,” Jack says, standing in front of the purple Courage League lion and shield logo painted on a wall in the weight room.
It’s the logo he picked out.
Courage League is located at 4405 121st Street, Urbandale, Iowa. For more information or to volunteer please visit, http://www.courageleaguesports.com/.
Top photo: Emily Leder plays goalie as her son Owen takes a shot at the new Courage League adaptive sports facility in Urbandale, Iowa.
The Courage League logo
Jack works out on a machine in the weight room at Courage League.
Owen, on the left, and his father, John, spent a little time shooting hoops and playing soccer before the special ribbon cutting ceremony on October 9.
Clarke-Wharff cuts the ribbon on Courage League with her son Jack at her side. On the left, holding the ribbon, is Urbandale Mayor Bob Andeweg.