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In Louisiana, community empowerment is the name of the game for adaptive athletes

Lamparez Top Image WWNO

10/27/2022 —

Stephanie Lamparez does not want this recognition. At least that’s what her daughter Alexandra Baddeaux, who accompanied her mother to WWNO station New Orleans on a hot summer’s day in August, says.

“She wants to promote the program and the team, but she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight,” Alexandra said. “She would like to continue working without recognition from the sidelines”

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Stephanie, or “Mama Steph” as she is called by many of the athletes she coaches, is perhaps the biggest advocate for athletes with disabilities in the state. Her journey into this community began shortly after she received her degree in physical therapy from the University of South Alabama and began working in the school system in her hometown of New Iberia. It was then that she discovered adaptive sports for the first time.

Lamparez’s daughter, Alexandra Badeaux (right), crosses the finish line with members of the GUMBO team. Photo: WWNO

“There was an APE teacher who said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a track event coming up, can you help me with some kids?’” Stephanie recalled. “They needed help positioning themselves in their wheelchairs to participate. That was in 1991″

Now, more than 30 years later, Lamparez is still training. Although she may not look like a regular athletic trainer. With her long silver hair and soft, soothing voice, it’s hard to imagine her yelling at young athletes to “up the pace.” That’s because her style of coaching is more focused on finding the best sport for each athlete, considering both their strengths and limitations.

“Whether racing wheelchair or throwing chair. Or what would be your best sport? Is it athletics or should we steer it more towards archery?” she said, sharing examples of what she’s considering. “Look at the child as a whole, its movement patterns, its spasticity, its strength. And how do we help them to be the best they can be?”

Lamparez began her coaching career at Games Uniting Minds and Bodies – “GUMBO” for short. Today she is President. And many of the athletes who participated say Lamparez stood up for them both on the field and in the classroom.

According to Anne Marie Herbert: “When we needed something or couldn’t get something in our school day, she knew who to talk to or raise the issue.”

Herbert is a high school senior from Denham Springs, a suburb of Baton Rouge. She has explained that many people with dwarfism like her are often encouraged to participate in Special Olympics or are simply not encouraged to play sports at all. But Lamparez made sure there was a place for her at the more competitive Paralympic level. Soon Lamparez had Herbert participate in competitions such as long jump and javelin throw. Events Herbert says she “never thought I could do” but “really learned to love.”

State Youth 2010.

Another former Lamparez athlete, Ryan Conley, competed in GUMBO Sports for 14 years. A native of Farmerville, Louisiana, Conley, who suffers from cerebral palsy, recalls how “Mama Steph” helped build his confidence on and off the track.

“Before each meeting, she taped me down with kinesio tape and made sure my muscles were loose,” he said. Naturally, as a trained physical therapist, Lamparez always made sure her athletes were stretched and comfortable. But perhaps more importantly, Lamparez drove Ryan along with her other athletes to compete across the country.

“If we have a meeting that’s longer than 12 hours, they come to my house the night before,” Lamparez said. “Then we load everyone into the van and drive 12 hours to the meeting.”

For the past 30 years, Lamparez has trained, recruited, transported, and advocated for hundreds of athletes with disabilities across Louisiana. Including her own children Nico and Alexandra.

Both were born with cerebral palsy and both have competed at the elite para level. In fact, it was Nico who introduced his mother to another athlete – Hagan Landry – at a high school cross country meet.

“Nico approached me,” Landry recalled. “And then Stephanie Lamparez came up to me and told me about the Paralympics.”

Landry, who suffers from dwarfism, was soon introduced to the shot put. And Stephanie started taking him to clinics and meetings across the country. After years of intense training, Landry made it to the Paralympic Trials and then the 2022 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. He received a silver medal in the men’s F41 shot put.

But not long after his big win, his thoughts turned back to Lamparez.

“I came back to the village and sat out on the balcony and really just thought, ‘If I had never cross country, Steph would never have found me.’ And I’m really grateful for that.”

But when Lamparez sees the success of one of her former athletes, she is hardly surprised. And while the pandemic may have put her coaching career on hold for two years, she plans to take another team of athletes to next year’s National Junior Games in Birmingham. Because when she looks at all the athletes she’s trained over the years, she sees all the things they are.

“They are athletes with a disability,” she said. “But they want to be known first as an athlete who happens to have a disability. I always tell them you can do whatever you want. You might have to do it differently. It may take you longer to learn. We may have to change. But you can do it.”

America Amplified is a CPB-funded initiative to support community-focused journalism in public media.

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