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Michigan State University

A Spartan Sports Hero You Might Not Know

Mark Andrews

A Spartan Sports Hero You Might Not Know

Through his nonprofit, Therapeutic Adventures, Mark Andrews, ’78, is helping people with disabilities experience and connect with the outdoors via the world of adaptive sports.

From the football field to track and field, Michigan State is home to no shortage of sports greats.

In 1978, one of those heroes—Earvin Johnson—was laying the groundwork for what would become a legendary hoops career, and Mark Andrews is one of the many Spartans quick to recall being part of those Magic days.

Of course, Andrews (though he’d probably be quick to deflect it) is a sports hero himself.

In 1981, he founded Therapeutic Adventures, a nonprofit educational organization that allows people with physical and developmental disabilities learn to ski, kayak, fly fish and more.

At the time, these types of programs were scarce. But Andrews, an avid hockey player since his youth, constantly looked to expand inclusive sports offerings.

“When people see they can do something that they didn’t know they could do, it opens them up to all sorts of possibilities,” he said. “It’s also just giving the feeling so many of us get from these activities. Everyone deserves to ski if they want to, feeling like they are flying on snow, or being out on the water enjoying the peacefulness of fishing. Where it’s possible, we want to make it happen.”

And there are many ways to make it happen. Take skiing, for example.

“There’s two-track skiing where you stand on two skis for people who have the core strength to keep their balance, such as many blind skiers. In that situation, you would also use a guiding technique,” he said. “There’s three-track for individuals who have the loss of a limb, which uses two forearm crutches with ski tips. There’s four-track skiing which has two hand-held outriggers for someone with cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injury. There are also two types of sit skis, which can be for a paraplegic or a double amputee, or someone who primarily uses a wheelchair.”

Partnership is the key to making the programs at Therapeutic Adventures a reality. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrews successfully wrote for a grant from the Dave Matthews Band, allowing whole families to enjoy the outdoors. “They couldn’t wait to get out there,” he said. “Many of them expressed that they needed this during that time.”

Andrews credits Michigan State with helping to build the path to his career. “I have fond memories learning in kinesiology class. The biggest influence was my student teaching placement working with populations that had intellectual disabilities,” he said. “The experience helped me to have a better understanding and better visualize how I could help.”

For Andrews, he feels this work has been more than a career. It’s his calling.

“You can go your whole life searching for why you’re here and I found it early on,” he said. “The experiences have been incredible. One of the earlier campers and I are going skiing soon. It’s been decades and we became great friends.”

Andrews may never have sunk a hook shot to win an NBA Finals game like Magic Johnson, but he has helped get many hooked on sports for a lifetime when maybe they once looked at that athletic endeavor and thought: Not in my lifetime.

“It’s been a gift to do these programs,” Andrews said. “And it’s changed my life. It’s hard to imagine stopping.”

Hand cycling
Mark Andrews and Robbie Red fishing
Mark and Pat skiing
Mark Andrews with Therapeutic Adventures

Contributing Writer(s): Eric Butterman

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