At 57, Chris Young uses crutches and sometimes a wheelchair to get around. Young, who otherwise is in good physical shape, has been an athlete for years. He used to play any outdoor sport. But after a Coast Guard plane crash left him paralyzed from the waist down when he was 20, Young had to find another way to compete.
“I think I learned to ski on a Monday and started racing on a Saturday that same week.” Young told WGBH News as he sat at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Charlestown, where he volunteers at the Adaptive Sports Center.
Young became a world champion Paralympic alpine skier. He said success can also come at a price for competitors.
“The pressure to be an athlete, and anybody who becomes serious in athletics and has Olympic dreams and Paralympic dreams, the gold metal is worth everything.” Young said as he sat with his crutches nearby. “There are no boundaries about what you might do to try to make that.”
Young said that pressure makes athletes vulnerable to sexual abuse and those with disabilities are even more at risk. Because disabled athletes need more physical assistance, he said, there are more opportunities for inappropriate contact.
Young spoke right after he had participated in a new training program called Adaptive Sports Abuse Prevention or ASAP. The training is specifically designed to protect athletes with disabilities, both physical or intellectual, from sexual abuse.
The training was created by staff at the Impact, Boston. Impact is part of Triangle Inc., a nonprofit based in Malden, Massachusetts, that serves people with disabilities.
Meg Stone, who directs Impact, Boston and serves as its program trainer, said that sexual abuse among athletes has been in the spotlight since Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman spoke up about years of abuse by USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar.
“There is no Aly Raisman with a disability that we know about.” Stone said. “Even though people with disabilities are anywhere between two and seven times more likely to experience sexual abuse.”
Stone said the training is designed to help coaches, doctors and athletes identify and act if they see abuse. The training should help answer some questions.
"Where is the line? What the boundaries are.” Stone said. “How to speak up when you see something concerning.”
Young said the training will be invaluable for a new generation of competitors. It will help them be able to recognize and react to uncomfortable situations, when they happen to themselves or other athletes.
“It’s something that I know now that I saw then, that I am sure I saw then,” he said.
The Impact, Boston team hopes the training will become a national model to prevent sexual abuse among athletes with disabilities.