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USA Unites Award Winners

Jack Eherenman

Waterloo, IA
CEO, SportAbility of Iowa

Jack Eherenman is the CEO of SportAbility of Iowa (SAI), a nonprofit group that organizes several events each year for people with physical challenges, an issue that is near and dear to Jack’s heart.

As the father of four boys, three of whom have significant challenges, Jack knows the positive impact sports can have on athletes, and their families and friends. One of his boys, Sean, who has Spina Bifida, was a track champion at Waterloo West High School. Jack was his coach for four years, and through this experience, he realized there were many athletes out there without opportunities to play adapted sports.

Jack works tirelessly in his role at SAI - a position for which he does not receive a wage - to create important sports opportunities for others. SAI events and activities include: numerous YMCA adapted sports clinics; a NWBA wheelchair basketball team; multiple fundraising wheelchair basketball events for charities; and the Adapted Sports Camp at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), a program that has been ongoing for ten years. The camp, which Jack started with a UNI professor Dr. Nancy Hamilton, is the only one in Iowa. When it launched, there was one athlete with physical challenges participating in track in the Iowa schools; many athletes were sitting at home with video games as their only option. Since the camp launched, many athletes of different grade levels have started track and become champions. Many others are recreational athletes in different sports. Also, volunteers from many different walks of life have attended the camp, played the sports, and have learned several things about what adapted sports are all about.

Jack has also taught university classes about adapted sports, and works with different physical therapy groups for those recently injured. Additionally, SAI has a lending program for equipment for athletes to use in their communities. Jack always encourages the athletes he encounters not to focus on what they can’t do, but on what they can do. He helps them see that they are true athletes, not just people with physical challenges -- they just happen to play their sport in a chair.

Many of the people of all abilities who participate in SAI events become lifelong friends. This group encourages people with different abilities to interact and build camaraderie and friendships. "Life-changing" is a cliché often used, but in this case, almost everyone, who has become involved with many of the SAI events, including the camp, have had their lives changed in various positive ways, even beyond sports.

Additionally, Jack and his wife Peggy have been active in their community for over 35 years, launching several programs that have helped those with mental and physical challenges, including a respite care program, a group home for children, and an "Up with Families" program for families with children with significant challenges to get together. Jack is also involved with his church, singing three of the four weekends a month, and is part of a powerfully inspirational music group called Agnus Dei Ministry. He enjoys handcyling and bicycling for exercise, and spending time with his family and friends. His motto is "Life’s challenges are not overcome by one’s talent......but by one’s heart!"

Jack Eherenman