ORLANDO, Fla. – She lives for this, the vision and the drive. Perhaps one day she’ll skate on the ice with a child or watch others play wheelchair basketball, with dreams lived and shared under one roof, bonds between friends and family made stronger through sports. This is what excites her.
“I’m determined to see this through,” says Amy Gomes, 55, her voice picking up.
“This is what keeps me going every day.”
The Central Florida Dreamplex is Gomes’ baby, and though the facility remains a collection of architectural renderings and hope, she has a vision for how the proposed 100,000-square-foot, $12-15 million athletics complex in south Lake County will look: Designed for people of all ages with disabilities, both physical and developmental, but open to the general public as well, unity will be the greatest result of a project with community in mind. The vision and the drive will become lights.
“It’s hope. It’s resources,” says Cameron Gomes, 27, Amy’s son. “It’s having that common bond with other parents that we want to provide. We think that will be huge.”
There’s that chance. The Central Florida Dreamplex remains a dream, first formed in 2009, but momentum has grown in recent months. Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks would like to include the facility as part of a 16,000-acre “Wellness Way” land-use plan near Clermont, Fla., with health and technology initiatives drawn to the area.
Amy Gomes hopes ground on her passion is broken within five years. Land has been set aside, she says, and she has worked to begin a capital campaign.
With help of others, she pushes for a dream to reach its destination.
“If I can say, ‘Your kid will be able to play a sport. Your child will be able to participate in what all the other kids will participate in,’ that’s really big for families,” she says.
“They want their kids to be like all the other kids. This place, because it is open to the general public and it is going to house sports that will be for the able-bodied, we can put the two together.”
She views the vision as an extension of her care. A co-founder of the non-profit Central Florida Pediatric Therapy Foundation, Amy Gomes has served as a therapist for 35 years, working with young families and children born with disabilities. In that time, she has seen patients grow and become adults.
A good therapist, she says with a laugh, remains a member of the family. Over the years, as she kept in touch with connections, she found some young adults lived at home with no jobs and little interaction with peers. She knew something must change.
“So we thought, ‘OK, we’ve got to do something, because we haven’t seen them through if we just leave them off (with), ‘Well, we gave you the therapy, now you’re done,’” she says.
Her foundation’s goal is to help others achieve independence. One initiative includes the FAITH House, a space in Clermont for two or three physically impaired adults to live together and share financial responsibilities. Another is the Hippotherapy Program, which uses a horse’s movement as a primary treatment strategy.
The Central Florida Dreamplex represents the latest effort to provide hope. It started as an idea to open an area ice rink, after a talk in late 2008 between Amy and Cameron, an ice hockey fan who began playing the sport when he was 17. From there, the dream evolved into some more full, after Amy attended a conference in 2009 that taught about ice rinks as tools for therapy: A place built with the differently abled in mind, the first of its kind in the Southeast, but one where people of all abilities can enjoy activities such as basketball, gymnastics, aquatics, ice skating, track-and-field events and more.
Plans for the facility include two ice rinks, one that can become an indoor field. There are renderings for wheelchair basketball and volleyball courts, a running track, a site for wheelchair soccer and a fitness center that will include customized equipment. Space for ballet/dance, gymnastics/tumbling and tae kwon do is also planned.
“In order to keep them active, nothing would be better than to go to one facility and basically pick your sport: ‘What do you want to do today?’” says Jenny Banker, 38, of Clermont, who has two kids, Dylan, 9, and Devin, 3, who live with cerebral-palsy-like symptoms, and a third, Londyn, 12, who lives with no disorder. “It keeps them active for life. It can be an ongoing thing.”
One that some hope enhances the region for decades to come.
“I hope it happens,” Parks says. “I think it’s a perfect fit for Lake County. Lake County, particular south Lake, is very focused on outdoor fitness, health and wellness. This fits the bill for that. It embodies everything that we want to see in our community.”
The vision and drive won’t end with a groundbreaking. That’s the power of this dream: It can impact generations to come.
Those involved with the Central Florida Dreamplex see a deeper meaning for the facility, one that can enhance individuals and families, a community and a region: Give people who lack a voice, who don’t have a location to develop themselves, a place to do so; elevate the standard of living for the differently abled in Central Florida, perhaps providing on-site employment chances in the process; grant the region with a high-quality training hub for athletes from the area and beyond.
“People need hope,” says Rajesh Durbal, 36, a triple-amputee triathlete who’s promoting the Central Florida Dreamplex. “They need something to hold on to. They need something to look forward to. We need to know that we can trust people – that people can rely on people, that there are people with good integrity out there trying to do the right thing. You can be better than where you’re at. You can look forward to more. You can expect more.”
Expectations, hope, promise – all raise a lifestyle. Through them, Amy Gomes envisions giving others reason to beat fear.
“I can’t even think of the word,” she says, when asked to describe how seeing this facility prosper would feel. “It’s unimaginable. It would be such a magnet for so many different kinds of people who sometimes get overlooked or forgotten or ignored. It will be a place where they feel important.”
There’s that chance. Hope, after all, is all-inclusive: children, the elderly, wounded warriors, men and women of full strength. Everyone deserves opportunity.
That’s why the vision and the drive keep her going. For a dream to become reality, there must be a destination, a prize in mind.
“Each person I meet and each family that gets on board and gets excited about it,” Gomes says, “it’s like, ‘This is really going to happen.'”
That alone is reason to hope.
For more information about the Central Florida Pediatric Therapy Foundation and the Central Florida Dreamplex, please visit: http://www.faithprojects.org/home/
-Fox Sports Florida