Getting Their Game On - Good Neighbor Awards

Realtor Magazine - Good Neighbor Awards

“When is my real leg going to grow?”

That’s the question 9-year-old Michaela Mendez, who suffers from congenital scoliosis, asked her mother, Mayra, when she was a toddler. 

Having used a prosthetic leg since she was 18 months old, Michaela often felt sidelined from normal children’s activities and started defining herself by her disability. Things changed when Mayra discovered Angel City Sports, a Los Angeles–based adaptive sports organization co-founded by real estate pro Bahar Soomekh and her husband, Clayton Frech. ACS gives people with physical disabilities the chance to play competitive sports.

Adaptive sports captured Soomekh’s attention after her son, Ezra, 14, was born with missing bones in one leg and just one finger on one of his hands. The condition, called congenital limb differences, affects six out of every 20,000 kids annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ezra’s leg was amputated and replaced with a prosthesis when he was a toddler.

Still, throughout his childhood, Ezra was athletic and loved sports. But Soomekh saw few opportunities for disabled kids to play on teams. She was upset to read about Chinese babies born with disabilities who were being abandoned. “They were treated like trash and left to die because they were missing a finger or part of their leg. I had given birth to such a child,” she recalls.

What would have shattered many parents, though, emboldened Soomekh. She became determined to create sports options for people who had none.

She saw how happy sports made Ezra and wanted to deliver that joy to other children with disabilities and to people who’d been injured, including wounded military veterans. “We all know the health and psychological benefits of being active, and the camaraderie, confidence, self-sufficiency, and values that you gain by playing on a team,” she says. “It fuels the soul—and that’s essential.” …