Disabled Former Marine Leads Charge for Playground


When he shakes your hand, it feels like Chris Kaag could pull off your arm.

So when the former Marine, who needs a wheelchair, says everyone, including the disabled, can be physically fit, you know he means it.

Kaag, founder and executive director of the Wyomissing-based IM ABLE Foundation, was at Opportunity House on July 28 for the dedication of an adaptive playground at Beech and Pear streets.

Kaag led the charge to raise funds for the playground that was designed to accommodate able-bodied and physically and learning-disabled children. Funds were raised through the partnership of IM ABLE, Berks Youth in Action, and the Gilmore-Henne Community Fund.

Kaag said he went to a newly renovated playground in West Lawn and was disappointed to see that the surface of the playground consisted of about a foot of wood mulch.

"For someone in a wheelchair, that means they can't use that playground," Kaag said. "I understand when you're working with an existing facility, but we designed this playground from scratch so we started with a surface that anyone can use."

The playground surface consists of 2-foot-square panels of a durable rubbery material that is as soft as mulch but accommodates wheelchairs, crutches and canes. There are ramps, slides, merry-go-rounds and other devices intended to entertain and stimulate children with disabilities such as autism, vision and hearing impairments and those with physical difficulties.

Kaag was diagnosed with a degenerative nerve disease in 1997 when he was a 21-year-old Marine. The disease slowly took his ability to walk but he saw it as motivation to start the IM ABLE Foundation and Corps Fitness, a health club in Wyomissing.

The playground will provide recreation for children who attend the Learning Center at Opportunity House and for disabled children throughout the county.

It is the first adaptive playground in the city.

The way Kaag sees it, the adaptive playground means no children, including disabled kids, have an excuse not to be active.

Kaag's motto is "Get up and move."

"This playground gives all kids the opportunity to do that," he said.

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