Courage League Sports: Life Moments

Many of life’s moments are shared with your family – starting with your parents, then your siblings, and eventually your spouse and kids. You have hopes and dreams for your marriage and life together. Raising your family, the bustle of activities from play groups, school functions, sports, plays, recitals. No one really thinks about the “what ifs”. “What if I lose my spouse?” “What if my child doesn’t turn out ‘normal’?”   The thought may cross your mind when you see someone you know experience a sudden life change. Thoughts of “I can’t imagine this happening.” “What an awful thing to happen to such a nice family. What would I do?” However, these may stick with you for a day or two and then life continues forward.

I was fortunate to find a great guy in college. We were young with our whole lives ahead of us. We married, bought a house, had our two healthy kids and were living the American dream. Then it happened. A few headaches and hand tremors that led to a diagnosis of a brain tumor in my 32-year-old husband.

We fought the fight with the idea of quality of life over quantity. This made our marriage and our family stronger. But we lost. After six years of battling, we lost, and I was left with two little boys looking to me to be their mom and dad.

It took us some time, but after a few months we began to find our new normal together. We bought a new house, resumed the hectic schedule of baseball and basketball games, concerts and more.

Then lightning struck again. My youngest went in for a routine surgery for a minor condition he was born with. It was something we knew would need maintenance, but all would be good going forward. And then our lives were turned upside down again.

My baby boy, eight years old, had complications from surgery and suffered six strokes. He was taken by life flight in the middle of the night, was in a coma for 38 days and on a vent. I was told he would probably not walk, talk or be able to live at home with us ever again.

Eventually, we moved into a rehab facility where he began his fight back to what would become his new normal. He defied all odds. He began eating, talking, walking, and learned to use a new dominate hand. He finally came home and went back to school where he saw his buddies still doing their thing – concerts, sports, playing with friends, etc. He remembered he used to do this. . .and still wanted to.

Tears of frustration and anger were frequent. He just wanted to play and be a kid, but there was nothing available that was safe and adapted to meet his needs.

During the course of his rehab, I sat and watched all his miracles happen. However, I was mad at myself for being so blind – blind to how many families were affected with a child living with a special need.   I was amazed at the numbers coming through the doors for services.   Knowing this and the limited availability of options for kids with special needs I began to research.

In Greater Des Moines, over 24,000 kids are affected with a physical, cognitive or emotional disability, and another 22,000 adults. That’s more than 46,000 members of our community affected with something preventing them from going full speed!


I was astounded by the numbers. I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted a place for my son to play. So a little over two and a half years ago I established a non-profit with the vision of “everyBODY deserves to PLAY,” and my son Jack named it Courage League Sports.


Located in Urbandale, Courage League sports has over 12,000 square feet of space used for adaptive recreational programming for all ages – from toddlers to seniors. Our facility offers state-of-the-art Exergaming technology (think video game technology that works with the movements of your body), recreational play options, team sports, music and movement classes and open gym six days a week.

With over 800 kids and 300 adults coming through our door on a monthly basis, we witness little miracles almost each day. Parents and participants alike are constantly telling us the difference we’re making in their lives, allowing for this special population an opportunity to play and be a kid.


Though the road has been rough and more than most endure in a lifetime, joy has been restored by seeing the difference Courage League Sports has had on so many in our community. This special population, and these special kids, now have a place to call their own.

If you’re interested in learning more about Courage League Sports, including how to become a member or donate, please visit here!

Written by Melissa Clarke-Wharff


Erin Huiatt

Erin is a reliable resource and stepping stone for women and families to find support and make connections within our community. She wants families to feel confident to reach out and ask for help and advice to get pointed in the right direction. She enjoys traveling and exploring with her two children in tow!

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