Cheryl Collins, director of diversity, equity and inclusion

When Adaptive Sports USA and Disabled Sports USA merged earlier this year to form Move United, the new entity instantly became the nation’s largest adaptive sports network. Now it’s setting the stage for further growth by creating a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Leadership Team.

Designed to attract new participants from low-income populations and communities of color, the initiative formally launched last month after years of planning. The DEI team includes military veterans, ex-Paralympians, coaches, and educators who grew up in and/or have worked in diverse communities, enabling them to understand many of the factors that hinder participation.

“We know there are huge disparities in who has access to adaptive sports,” says Cheryl Collins, who was named Move United’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “Now we’re in a position to identify the barriers and close those gaps. We were hearing from our members, and we knew historically there were some things we needed to address as an organization. When we looked for our new executive director two years ago, one of the most important things to us was to find someone who could specifically focus on diversity and inclusion.”

Glenn Merry, who become Move United’s executive director in 2018, came in with an outstanding record of achievement in that regard. During 12 years at the helm of U.S. Rowing, he vastly broadened participation in the sport, helping U.S. Rowing earn two awards for diversity and inclusion from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. “Move United is here to incite necessary conversations and change for a diverse and inclusive environment to fully represent the community we should serve,” says Merry, who describes Move United’s core mission as “a social justice movement that uses sport as a lever.”

One of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team’s first initiatives will be a mentorship program to groom adaptive sports leaders from diverse backgrounds.

“We’re a chapter organization, and we know from experience that there can be challenges to forming a chapter—everything from fundraising to forming a board to filing the paperwork,” Collins explains. “We want to mentor and support diverse organizations that are working in this space or want to be involved. And we need to hear from communities that haven’t felt adequately served by our organization, even if some of what they tell us is hard to hear. We need to hear from the people who understand the problems and have lived them.”

The DEI leadership team’s members include Staff Sergeant Eric Alva (US Marine Corps-Retired), Private First Class Tony Drees (US Army-Retired), Paralympic Gold Medalist and Retired US Army Sergeant Kari Miller-Ortiz, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Adaptive Sports Program Manager Harvey Naranjo, Move United Senior Education Manager Krista Rappoccio, Paralympian and North Carolina Central University Professor Dr. Andrea Woodson-Smith, and Adaptive Snowboarding Coach Reggie Showers.

“Our work is important to ensuring that no one gets left on the sidelines,” Collins says. “I will work with the DEI leadership team to uplift and amplify a more diverse group within our community to ensure that even more people can experience the power of sport.”