An Interview with Mark A. Lucas, Executive Director, US Association of Blind Athletes
31 Oct, 2011By: Sports Destination Management Team
Executive Director, United States Association of Blind Athletes
Years in industry
Years in current position
What is the mission of your organization?
The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) was founded by Dr. Charles Buell in 1976 with the purpose of improving the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired. That year, 27 young men and women were selected to represent the United States in the first Olympiad for the Disabled in Toronto, Canada. As a result of this Olympic involvement, a group of national leaders, educators and coaches of the visually impaired met to discuss the need for an organization to structure, promote and sponsor competitions for people who are blind and visually impaired throughout the United States.
Today, USABA has evolved into a national organization that provides sports opportunities to thousands of children, youth, adults and veterans who are blind and visually impaired. USABA programs serve athletes of all ages and abilities from local grassroots programs to the elite Paralympic level.
USABA is a Colorado-based 501(c) (3) organization that provides life-enriching sports opportunities for every individual with a visual impairment. A member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USABA provides athletic opportunities in various sports including, but not limited to track and field, Nordic and alpine skiing, biathlon, judo, wrestling, swimming, tandem cycling, powerlifting and goalball (a team sport for the blind and visually impaired).
In addition to providing people who are blind and visually impaired with athletic opportunities, the second part of USABA's mission is to change society's negative stereotypes concerning the abilities of blind people as well as other disabled individuals. Combating stereotypes is achieved by both educating the public through various media avenues as well as by training athletes to enter schools and community organizations to directly address disability issues.
Nationally, how many participants do you have?
How many events are held each year?
In what regions/locations are they held?
USABA hosts events all throughout the United States as well as international locations.
As an organization, what do you ask of a location?
Accessibility is key for USABA events, so one of the most important factors for a venue and location is how accessible it will be not just for our athletes, but also for staff to work on the event.
From an event management standpoint, what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Since our events are not widely attended, the most challenging aspect is to secure foundation grants and corporate sponsors who are interested in cause marketing.
This year, USABA is extremely proud to have received a grant of $150,000 from the WellPoint Foundation on a National Fitness challenge across 12 states with the goal of reducing the Body Mass Index of more than 1,000 blind and visually impaired teenagers across the United States.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Sports opportunities allow people who are blind and visually impaired to develop independence through competition, without unnecessary restrictions. Like sighted people, the blind can share in the thrill of victory and the reality of defeat.
Our events create positive effects far beyond just our athletes, though. One of the most important things we do is to promote the abilities of people who are blind and visually impaired. Many people have negative stereotypes or misconceptions about people who are blind and visually impaired and through sport and opportunity, our athletes shatter those misconceptions.
What is your biggest challenge in organizing your organization's events?
We are a small staff of only four full-time staff members, so we really rely on many key volunteers to assist us in implementing our events.