Mike holding his racquet and looking up as he tosses a tennis ball in the air to serve.

Athlete of the Year Candidate: Mike Hatfield

Michael Hatfield is another outstanding candidate for the 2022 Athlete of the Year Award. Mike was born in India and grew up in Cedar Rapids. He contracted polio in India. It affected his legs, and he has worn leg braces and used crutches since he learned how to walk; however, he never let that slow him down! Mike has always spent a lot of time outdoors through boy scouts, camping, and hiking. He went to college in Minneapolis and has worked as a licensed orthotist for the past 23 years. His wife is a registered nurse, and they have a young child at home. 

Mike became involved in Adaptive Sports Iowa when he met Mike Boone, the former director of ASI, at an event for orthotics and prosthetics and introduced him to ASI. Mike is always looking for ways to stay active, and he has been involved in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, ASI’s adaptive cycling team for RAGBRAI, and wheelchair football (briefly). Friendly and easy-going in nature, Mike describes his athletic style as competitive but recreational. He doesn’t want to hurt himself or others or get into silly arguments, but he does play to win!

Mike’s favorite program at ASI is the RAGBRAI team, hands down! He has been on the team for 6 years, and he points out that that’s enough years to have a different jersey to wear every day of the week after he receives this year’s jersey. He strongly believes that “every Iowan should complete RAGBRAI at least once in their life.” You can create great bonds and relationships with the other riders by spending the week with them, and it gives you the chance to meet people around the state with different paths in life and to experience “Iowa nice”. Mike says the RAGBRAI route is always both physically and mentally challenging, but for the best. He likes to bring a journal with him and find quiet time during the day, usually either early morning or after the ‘partying’ has calmed down, to recount his favorite parts of the day, memorable moments, challenges, etc. 

When asked about the greatest challenge in adaptive sports, Mike responded similarly to Joel in that it can be difficult to find enough people to make a full team (basketball); however, he made it clear that participating in ASI is very personally-fulfilling. There are lots of opportunities to give back to people by volunteering, teaching and giving demonstrations in clinics, raising awareness, etc. Mike says ASI has given him a better understanding of himself, which motivates him to continue to give back. The world is not as exclusive to people with physical disabilities as it was 20 years ago, and he does what he can to help continue to create an inclusive environment for future generations.

Adaptive sports have taught Mike a lot and have helped him develop greater patience and acceptance. Many of the barriers that people in chairs face don’t impact him since he can still walk independently, so playing sports in a chair makes him more appreciative of his own personal capabilities. It also gives him a unique perspective at his job when making prosthetics for patients. Every single person has abilities, though the level of impairment might change. Mike says you just have to learn to make the most of those abilities and the ability to change. One of Mike’s goals is to show other people with similar disabilities that they CAN do it! If he can get one person to fall in love with adaptive sports, he’s that much more appreciative. “We are breaking down barriers one step at a time so eventually it can become commonplace.” 

Mike would have made a great teacher, as he had a lot to say when asked what he would want the nondisabled population to know about people with disabilities and adaptive sports. He wants to encourage everyone to get out and try adaptive sports. He says it doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not. Participating in adaptive sports gives you an entirely new perspective on sports in general. Adaptive sports are fun and everyone can enjoy them. In his experience, every time an able-bodied person tries an adaptive sport they talk about how much fun they had, and it connects you to new relationships you might not have expected. In addition, Mike doesn’t like when people call him ‘inspiring’ because this is just his normal life. He learned to walk with braces just as able-bodied people learned to walk without braces, and personally, he doesn’t find himself ‘inspiring’ for that. In a similar manner, he explained that just because you play adaptive sports, that doesn’t make it any more or less challenging. It’s just different and something you have to get used to. 

Thank you, Mike, for your positivity and encouragement! We appreciate all you do!

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