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MBA student Erik Robeznieks aims to make collegiate sports more inclusive

September 22, 2020
Photo Credit: Michelle Gorkunberg

Erik Robeznieks’ passion for physical activity and sport has motivated him to investigate how college sports can provide opportunities for students with physical disabilities.

The Ted Rogers MBA student presented his research project, called “Examining the Potential Inclusion of Adaptive Sport in the NCAA,” on how adaptive sport can be included at the U.S. collegiate level, as part of a keynote address at the Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals 2020 Virtual Conference on September 12, 2020. The NCAA is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which oversees athletics at almost 1,300 educational institutions in the US and Canada.

“This area of work is a great passion of mine because of the value that physical activity, recreation and sport can have for individuals and society,” says Robeznieks.

“On an individual level, these opportunities lead to emotional, social and physical wellness. They also foster self-efficacy and transferable skills that support personal, academic and professional success,” he explains. “At a societal level, adaptive sport is a way to bring people together that actively dismantles misconceptions about disability and adaptive sport.”

The main motivator for Robeznieks’ research is the lack of support by the NCAA and its member institutions in creating equitable opportunities for athletes with physical disabilities to compete at the collegiate level. His study explored the current challenges for, and strengths of, adaptive sport at the collegiate level, opportunities for the growth of collegiate adaptive sport programming and participation and strategies for integrating with the NCAA.

“Adaptive sport is not something that has to be, nor should it be, delivered in a segregated way,” he says. “Through slight modifications of delivery, adaptive sport can be inclusive of everyone.”

As a result of Robeznieks’ research paper and prior work, he has recently been employed by the University of Michigan to manage their adaptive sports and fitness program and implement the recommendations from his research project.

“A goal of the program and for myself is to have adaptive sports recognized as a varsity sport at the institution, and be the first NCAA Division 1 school in the United States to officially support an adaptive sport as a varsity sport,” he says.

As part of the keynote address, Robeznieks also delivered a presentation, called “Disabusing DisabilityTM: Demonstrating That DISability Doesn’t Mean Inability,” along with Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, Johan Latorre and Matthew Fritzie from the University of Michigan. Their presentation discussed the necessity for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to not only ensure that disability is part of the discussion, but that people with physical disabilities are meaningfully engaged in the process.

“In the future, I plan on providing consulting services for organizations and institutions that would include strategic development and planning for adaptive sport programming, grant writing and resource acquisition, and more.” Robeznieks explains. “I also plan on using what I learn from my professional and academic experiences to build an adaptive sport and fitness program at a Canadian university.”