Led by Teresa Skinner, Development Camp Works With Next Generation of Para T&F Athletes, Coaches
by Lela Moore
Athletes train in wheelchair racing at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Development Camp in Chula Vista.
Teresa Skinner wears many hats in the world of Para track & field.
In early October, she donned one of them to run a development camp for young athletes at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California.
Skinner is a coach for the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Team and serves as the executive director of ParaSport Spokane, an adaptive sports club in Washington, where she is the lead coach for wheelchair racing. She is also an occupational therapist.
Skinner called being in charge of the camp an “honor and an opportunity.” Sixteen athletes and about 10 coaches attended this session. Skinner said that her goals for the camp were to provide education about rising higher in the ranks of Para track and field to both athletes and their personal coaches, as well as to connect training center staff with those athletes and coaches.
In the future, Skinner said, she would like to add back about a half day that was removed from the schedule at this camp. That would give athletes more downtime, a chance to interact with one another more and the opportunity to meet one-on-one with coaches. If funding materializes, she would also like to add about four more athletes to the roster for future camps.
Campers began their day around 6:30 a.m. and stayed in motion for more than 12 hours. They started with a yoga and movement class, ate breakfast, worked out on the track, attended education sessions, worked out and then ate again, according to Skinner.
One purpose the camp serves is helping athletes — some of whom arrive at camp having competed in several different events across track and field over the course of their junior careers — narrow down their strengths to focus on a specific event.
“What is their best event? Where will they be most successful?”
Skinner asked the other coaches in attendance to consider these questions as they discuss the different athletes.
Athlete feedback on the camp was very positive, Skinner said.
“I haven’t heard anything but great stuff (from camp participants),” she said.
Some of those in attendance will be competing at next year’s world championships and vying for a spot on the 2024 Paralympic team. Five will compete next month at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation Games in Portugal. Others are striving to make the 2028 or 2032 Paralympic squads.
Another function the camp provides is involving new coaches with the national team. Recruiting more coaches to the camps involves seeking out college programs and local clubs with coaches interested in moving up the ranks.
“They just get super geeked up about coaching Paralympic athletes or future Paralympians,” Skinner said. Some are former wheelchair racers themselves.
Part of recruiting coaches requires being forward-thinking, Skinner said. The main concern of the current national team coaches, she said, is “who will replace us? Who is going to be the next person in that spot?”
“We’re not doing a good job if we’re not finding replacements,” she added.
Skinner says that every time she attends a camp, she learns from the staff at the training center, and she hopes to extend that experience to the coaches she recruits as well. She said that even when coaches do not specialize in wheelchair racing, as she does, sometimes they will explain a movement pattern and, “it sparked some other way of explaining it and another way of understanding it.”
Overall it is an opportunity to be around others who do the same work and to bounce ideas off of them. When you are a participant in an individual sport, like track and field, Skinner said, it is important to come together as a community periodically.
“It renews my spirit in coaching every time I’m around it, and I absolutely love it,” Skinner said.