The wheelchair club InSuperAbili connects passion for sports, cultural activities and awareness raising.
This blog series presents active wheelchair clubs in Switzerland. Part 1: Interview with Walter Lisetto, Chair of the Ticino club “InSuperAbili”.
Mr. Lisetto, who are the InSuperAbili?
In the first place, the InSuperAbili are a group of awesome people. The club has about 330 members, 80 with disabilities and more than 250 supporters – family members, friends or people who are interested in the topic of disability and integration.
How did InSuperAbili come into being?
In 2012, InSuperAbili has been created thanks to the initiative of ten people who wanted to pursue their favourite sports, i.e. handbiking, on a more professional level. It is a group which was founded “bottom-up” and develops itself according to the initiatives, ideas and wishes of their members.
And how did you become Chair?
Let’s say, in order to found a club, it needs a chair. They knew me because I had introduced the handbike race to the StraLugano, one of the most important running events in Ticino (for more information: http://stralugano.ch/?lang=de). Therefore, when they had decided to found a new club, they asked me to become the chair. The reasons for my commitment, however, also date back further and are connected to a personal story: in 1996, my brother had an accident, became quadriplegic and was treated in Nottwil. In a certain way, it was only natural to me to assume this task.
Which activities does InSuperAbili offer?
The activities offered by InSuperAbili are mostly focused on sports. Our flagship, so to speak, is the handbike. We have the biggest handbike team – seven handbikers of whom two are on the national team. Furthermore, we offer other sports activities such as tennis, motor activities in the gym, swimming and sailing. We also organize cultural activities, such as for example a field trip to the LAC (Lugano Arte e Cultura), to La Scala in Milan as well as to Mudec (Museo delle culture) to see a Frida Kahlo exhibition. We also offer awareness raising programs in schools: we show a video and let the students try the handbike and we stimulate discussions about disability.
A diverse selection of activities! How can you be active on so many levels?
Do you want to know the secret? (laughs) It’s the people! The active members but also and above all the volunteers – without them we could not pursue our activities. Everyone, also the members of the board, make a voluntary commitment, nobody is paid, the opposite, many are among the first supporters of the club. All our activities require time, commitment and trained leaders. For example, without the help of the volunteers, the athletes would not be able to participate in so many competitions. The handbike calendar has exploded in the last two years; there are at least two races every weekend. The athletes want to participate and it all needs to be organized, it’s logistically challenging: we have a van which we bought two years ago but we also need a driver, accompanying helpers, the athletes need to be registered for the races, and sometimes hotel rooms need to be booked.
And how do you finance all these activities?
Partially through the revenue from the annual membership fee but also and above all through sponsors and donations.
Who is looking for sponsors?
It is my task as the Chair to look for sponsors since all these activities are expensive and we are always looking for funding. We want to offer a service, therefore we pay what we can, i.e. race registration fees, travel, sometimes hotel accommodation. We have a set of sponsors and then we invite specific sponsors to specific activities, e.g. to organize the “Zentralfest” of Swiss Paraplegic Association in Lugano in September (2018, editor’s note). And then there are the donations: people see what we do and think it’s awesome, they are fascinated and decide to support us by making a donation. We are also very much dependent on word of mouth.
This is why it is important to you to show what you are doing and to be present on site.
Of course. We are very active and there are two reasons for it: we want to become part of the City of Lugano and its offer of activities but also to raise awareness about disability. As the group InSuperAbili, we want to be integrated, we want to be part of society and the system and therefore we participate in all activities organized by the City. Therefore we have participated in Sportissima for years, an event promoting the interest in sports (for more information: https://www.cstenero.ch/en/eventi/sportissima.html). In my opinion, Sportissima is an outstanding opportunity. InSuperAbili has a stand where people can try a handbike. Many people ask what it is since they have never seen one before, they like it, are curious and you say: “Have you really never seen Zanardi on TV? This bike is used by people who are unable to move their legs and use their arms instead. There are also race events, come and see for yourself in Lugano”. We often talk about architectural barriers but a lot more work needs to be done to reduce mental barriers and ignorance. It’s all about communication work that needs to be done and sports are a useful means since people like sports and they like to watch.
And which role do sports play in the lives of people with disabilities?
For people with disabilities, doing sports is a way to find themselves. If there was a traumatic event in life – and accident or an illness – and you end up in a wheelchair, a new life begins; everything that applied before, does not apply any more. We have seen that sports are not only a motor for social integration but it also helps to gain back confidence in oneself because it gets you back in the game and gives you the opportunity to discover your talents. Competition makes you say: “I want to win and I can win”, it makes your life meaningful. You may not be able to do certain things any more but you’ll discover that you can do others. And this is very important to us. But of course, not everybody is into sports.
Do all your members do sports?
No. The members who participate in sports activities are a minority. There are several factors that play a role in this, for example the age and partially the interest. Those who are not interested in sports participate in cultural activities, they are quasi a different audience because often typical athletes don’t go to the opera.
Are you taking steps to include less active members?
First, we try to offer a range of activities. Although sports are our focus, we also include cultural and leisure activities in our annual program and are open for suggestions by the members. In some cases, we try to integrate people who do not participate in any of the activities by collaborating with the consultant of Swiss Paraplegics Association. Gian Paolo (Donghi, SPA Consultant, editor’s note) gets in touch with these people and invites them for a visit to see what we are doing. Sometimes it helps to see that someone with a higher degree of disability performs a certain activity and then you think you can do it, too.
How are your relations with the City of Lugano?
They are good. Maybe we have earned credibility and trust from the general public due to our activities; our vice chair has been elected into Lugano’s City Council. When we ask for a meeting, at least we get an appointment, we are recognized as dialog partners and this is very important. For example, we get numerous messages from our members and it is our task to make note of them and to forward them to the respective authorities. More than once, we have drawn attention to a sidewalk without a ramp or a lack of parking spots for disabled. These interventions are small but nevertheless important since they make life easier for people with a limited mobility. Thanks to our good relations with the City, we have always received answers. In respect of the buildings, Lugano obviously has old buildings and not everything is accessible but an effort is made to catch up bit by bit.
You mentioned that you are responsible for the search for sponsors. What else do you do as Chair?
I take care of the institutional tasks, the relations with the canton and the municipality, the communication, e.g. of the race results. Another task is the maintenance of relations to other clubs, e.g. to the Gruppo Paraplegici Ticino. I try to find commonalities. A dream of mine is to organize an event together – we have done one for our members in the past but I would like to organize a public event. This could be a sports event, for example. Your strength is basket ball and ours is the handbike. Then there are the arguments within the club. I always say in my committees: there is no space for rivalry and personal interests or we would fail our mission. Mastering these incidences is one of my tasks as Chair.
Looking forward, what are the challenges for InSuperAbili?
The problems are the same as for any other club, e.g. the search for people who donate their time for keeping up the activities. And we always have to reinvent ourselves, the club has to develop. The ideas are partially from my surroundings; I collect the ideas, say yes (laughs) and then we put them into practice together.
There a some new projects. Have you seen the video about Aero Gravity?
Aero Gravity? What is it about?
In the suburbs of Milan there is the largest free fall simulator worldwide, it’s like sky diving (for more information: https://www.aerogravity.it/en/). One of the supporters of this initiative is a wheelchair user who has decided to develop this activity also for people with spinal cord injury. Therefore we have started a new project together with him in order to truly make this activity accessible. We have organized a day with the InSuperAbili, on which many of our members, with and without spinal cord injury, have tried Aero Gravity and they loved it. Try to imagine, for someone who cannot use his legs, this sensation is really incredible. We have published a video online to show how Aero Gravity works and to share the experiences with the participants (video available here: https://www.rsi.ch/la2/programmi/sport/sport-non-stop/reportage/Gli-Insuperabili-10232255.html).
Last but not least: Is there a message that you would like to convey to the Community?
I would like to ask the Community – pedestrians and wheelchair users – to dare to overcome prejudice so that we are not the first to create mental barriers. Let us search for new ways to escape the daily routine and to try new things; let us look for commonalities.
And what would you like to tell the people in Ticino?
I would like to invite the people of Ticino to come and watch a handbike race live. This explains our mission better than I could ever explain. Come and watch these great guys and maybe support us, get engaged. It is not a question of time. Who has time nowadays? It is a choice, a question of determination: I work full time at a bank, am married, and have four kids. I need to make time for it. This here is my second task, unpaid or, say, paid in a different way (laugs). Maybe this is my message to the people in Ticino: come and discover a world that certainly gives you more than you can give it. Because everybody tells me: “man, you are so good”, but truth is the InSuperAbili truly give me a lot. I take something home that is worth more than a salary.
Mr. Lisetto, thank you very much for speaking with us and all the best to the InSuperAbili!
Contact of the group InSuperAbili:
[translation from the original Italian blog post]
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