PHOENIX — The Arizona Cardinals begin Voluntary Organized Team Activities next week, but earlier this month we found a number of players in a different type of arena.
Quarterback Colt McCoy, linebackers Dennis Gardeck and Cameron Thomas, kicker Matt Prater, and defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter were among the players that joined Cardinals Vice President Nicole Bidwill at Hunkapi Farms for a special equine therapy session with families affected by ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
“We are about to give 12 folks with ALS the time of their life riding a horse,” Terra Schaad, founder and executive director of Hunkapi Programs, said. “This is the first time that we've had the Cardinals bring a cause of their choice here to the farm and we are so proud and honored to be a part of it.”
Hunkapi, a 10-acre farm located in Scottsdale, is getting ready to celebrate 24 years of existence. The farm offers therapeutic horseback riding, equine assisted psychotherapy, and equine assisted life skills to about 300 people per week.
In a special, first-of-its-kind event, the Cardinals traded their cleats for cowboy boots and teamed up with Hunkapi to help lift the spirits of those living with the neurodegenerative disease that has no cure.
Scott Keniston, who was diagnosed with ALS in May of 2018, was one of the people who had the opportunity to get out of his chair and into the saddle at the event.
“It's an everyday battle… Mine is my lower extremities became weaker and are still becoming weaker. It's very slow progression with me,” Keniston said. “But you come to these things and whole group is in with it, giving you support... The ALS Association of Arizona does a lot of adaptive type things like fishing or boating and it gives you something fun to go do with people that are going through the same stuff. Everybody gets it.”
Schaad said the goal of the equine therapy session is to improve the individual’s overall sense of well-being. Sitting on the back of a horse can provide those who are bound to a chair or living with limited mobility because of ALS with a new vantage point or a feeling of accomplishment.
“As we know, this is a very sad disease because there's not a cure yet. You can kind of prolong and learn to live with the symptoms,” Schaad said. “Socialization is sometimes difficult for them, or they just don't want to because there's a depression that's associated with the disease and anxiety. So, we're going to be working on getting present and really feeling that sense of joy and well-being.”
This event hit home for Cardinals second-year linebacker Cameron Thomas. The San Diego native has an uncle living with ALS, giving him a unique perspective shared with the families at the event. Having the support of Arizona’s NFL team is something the participants embraced with enthusiasm.
“Being able to have a connection with my family, to be out here and meet other families and have the platform to be able express myself… I try to use it as best I can,” Thomas said.
Keniston got to ride on Bidwill’s shire horse called “Sugar.” The lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan put any feelings about an NFC West rivalry aside for a few hours of horseback riding with the Cardinals. Keniston believes more exposure and awareness of the disease can help bring progress toward a cure.
“I'm up for a fight. Bring it on. Let's try to cure it. You know, someone’s got to be first. And I wouldn't mind being that guy,” Keniston said. “If you know somebody with ALS, just give them a hug. That helps. Just appreciate them… There's not a lot you can do for us except just be there. And hugs are great.”
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