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Adarius Bowman did more than just lend his name to a worthy cause when he created Adarius 4 Autism this year.
He took on a hands-on role, which is appropriate considering that he has used those huge mitts to catch 466 passes for 6,781 yards and 33 touchdowns in 82 games as an all-star slotback with the Eskimos over the past seven seasons.
Bowman, 32, is the president of his non-profit corporation, which was set up to assist youth diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and he has been active in the community with several appearances during the football season.
“It’s been amazing, man,” he said. “It’s a blessing just to see the families and the support from the city and to see the smiles on the kids’ faces.
“Some of those kids were role models, so I’m always glad to be able to use my platform to really get a lot of awareness, just so people understand that how they support the games, you’ve got to support these kids’ dreams and ideas as well. If I have a kid one day, I hope they get the same kind of support.”
The Eskimos recognized Bowman’s efforts by naming the lanky six-foot-three receiver as the 2017 winner of the David Boone Memorial Award. The award, created in 2005, is presented every year at the CFL team’s annual dinner to one Eskimos player “who displays exceptional work in the community and represents the football club in an upstanding and professional manner.”
The morning after the Labour Day Rematch game in early September, Bowman was up bright and early along with his team of 26 parents, fans and supporters who made donations to participate in the Autism Speaks Canada Walk at Rundle Park. About 500 people took part in the three-kilometre walk.
Normally, Bowman would sleep in until about noon the morning after a night game, but while most of his teammates were letting their bodies rest and recover from the physical battle with the Calgary Stampeders, Bowman was at the fundraising event, which started with registration at 9:30 a.m., a small breakfast and a meet n’ greet before the walk.
“It was definitely the cause that got me up; it was amazing,” said Bowman, who was still feeling “down” after the Eskimos lost both games in the home-and-home series with Calgary.
“I had a few of my teammates who were going to come out, but that battle we had against Calgary and then the early walk, it made a difference for a couple of guys to get out there. But a lot of the guys have been supporting (us) all year. When they can make it out, they’ve been out there. The receiver group came out to the event we had in St. Albert (in August).”
Bowman hadn’t been able to forget about the loss to the Stampeders by the morning after, but supporting the charity walk “put that good feeling back on you. I was so thankful to be a part of that and see all the great organizations in the city.”
Bowman launched Adarius 4 Autism in January, but the plan has been in his heart for a long time.
“It’s something I’ve been building for a few years, but there’s a couple of things you have to do on the business side of things – getting the documents done right, getting your board members together, finding a location whether you’re going to go provincial or regional,” he explained. “It took us a while to put an actual team together; we had some great volunteers come out and help us come out and get started.”
The native of Chattanooga, Tenn., who is playing in his 10th CFL season, has always had a passion to work with youth, but didn’t always know which direction it would take until he met national receiver Brock Ralph and his autistic daughter when they were both playing with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2009-10 and lived together.
Ralph was a single parent when he met Bowman. Oakley was four, about to turn five.
“One thing that always stuck with me is I always remember Brock saying, ‘Oh man, I wonder if Oakley will ever live by herself? I wonder if she’ll ever improve? I wonder if she’ll go to university? I wonder if she’ll ever have a boyfriend? I wonder if she’ll ever get married? I wonder if she’ll ever have kids?’
“It’s something that we don’t even think about,” Bowman continued. “We take it for granted to not even put thoughts towards that. My teammates and I expect to get married, we expect to go to prom, we expected to get picked up by some other teams.
“But when you’re invited into this (autistic) community, it’s something that’s not a given. It’s not the norm.”
Oakley is 13 years old now and Bowman is impressed with how far she’s come.
“It’s a blessing to see her improving in school, to see her communication skills increasing,” Bowman said. “That’s what really made me fall in. Hopefully, Adarius 4 Autism could be the path to Oakley one day working and finding her own independence. It will take a lot of work, but we won’t do it by ourselves. But definitely being in and bouncing ideas off each other and the research that they’re doing in this field, I think it’s possible one day.”
Bowman knew about autism before he met the Ralphs and may even have been around autistic people without realizing it. But getting to know Oakley and her dad, who is now coaching the Harry Ainlay Titans high school football team, changed everything.
“She’s like a niece to me now, so that definitely drove the passion of wanting to be able to help that field,” said Bowman. “This is something I will always be involved with it.
“I’m the president and I’m highly involved. We have great volunteers, we’ve got a great team. We’ve got some parents who really help us with the direction of which way to go.
“I have no issue using the so-called platform I have,” he continued. “A lot of these kids will listen to us before they listen to their parents. I actually used to be one of those kids. You think everybody else knows what they’re talking about and your parents are wrong. That’s one of the things I’m doing in there. It’s not all fitness and playing, but just talking and growing.
“I was a kid one day and I had a kid brain and I did kid things. I’m here today as an adult and, if it wasn’t for the help that I had, those coaches, those older players, those mentors really explaining to me how to make that step, explaining to me how to listen, explaining to me that you can get this done, keep working, keep working, keep working. Without those moments, I really can’t see the success I’ve had as a professional.
“The thing I’ve found is that group really does get overlooked. Even just hearing the word autism, (people) almost think disability or handicapped or something like that. But it’s not that at all. The word I like to use is these kids have a special ability, one that we can’t even comprehend.
“Being around them, you can definitely see the love and just see the growth in the kids. It’s fun, man. It’s the best,” he added.
Bowman said the slogan for his charity in its first year is “Unity is Power; it’s going to take all of us” and its mission is to “empower the lives of those affected through literacy, training, advocacy and research.” His organization is offering needs-based training to ease the transition to becoming a contributing member of society for youth between the ages of eight and 22.
“Our main objective with the Adarius 4 Autism is we’re trying to get out the school program where these kids can continue to work on their craft,” he said. “Some of these autistic kids are amazing at art, some of them are wicked with numbers, so we just really try to build that environment where they can continue to work on their craft.
“I feel like there are things we can do and make their environment a lot better, too. That’s what our focus is.”