By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Back when he was still in high school, Adam Small had a revelation based on an observation that contributed to his acceptance of a new job several years later.
Small, who went on to become a swimming star at the University of Arizona and National Team member before graduating last December with his degree in business marketing, recently took over as CEO of PlayAbilityToys.com – a designer, manufacturer and seller of specialty toys for children with various special needs.
His observation that day during a session at the Olympic Training Center was that people who want to exercise and compete – no matter what their ability or disability – find ways to make it happen.
“While we were there, some Paralympic athletes were training, and one stuck out to me the most,” Small said. “She was a visually impaired athlete who was using a device on the side of the pool that sprayed water on her when she was close to the wall, so she could flip turn.
“I thought it was so creative and amazing that this athlete was not letting her impairment stop her from competing at the highest level. That memory inspired me to take this job and help reach as many children with special needs as possible.”
In his new role, that is one of Small’s major goals – to make physical activities, especially swimming, available to everyone regardless of their physical or mental abilities.
“In my mind, the toys we design are like that device she was using,” Small said. “It gave her the ability to overcome her disability and thrive at something she loves. It’s my goal to help develop toys for as many children in need as possible, so maybe one day they can achieve their athletic dreams or for whatever else they find a passion.”
Small’s new entrepreneurial opportunity is nothing new for him.
He has always had a self-motivated sense and approach to life – whether it was life in general, school or swimming. It’s ingrained in his psyche and was fed daily by his swimming experiences.
“Being a successful swimmer is the same as being a successful entrepreneur,” Small said. “In swimming, no one can swim for you, and no one gives you a win. In being an entrepreneur, no one will do your work for you, and your competitors work tirelessly to beat you. Although neither of my parents were entrepreneurs, they support what I do, and see that I have as much passion for this as I did swimming.”
During his final semester of college, he took a very hands-on advertising management course that helped spur his original interest in working for a .com or start-up business and essentially for himself. He and his class teammates were given real money and partnered with real companies to put on real events.
That experience inspired Small to get involved with the development and promotion of StudyCorner.com – a website for college students to buy, sell and share study materials.
He said he remains a partner in StudyCorner.com but is now focusing his attention and efforts toward PlayAbilityToys.com.
“I was part of the team that created the business plan, market analytics and marketing strategy,” Small said of his experience with Studycorner.com. “Although the site is mainly business-to-college, my primary role was to connect with entire Greek chapters, so in that sense it was heavily business-to-business.”
“I wasn't Greek, but the concept came from the fact that the men’s swim team was much like a fraternity but didn’t have a centralized house to store study materials. So we developed this idea for that, but realized actual Greek chapters would like something like that as well.”
As far as swimming is concerned, Small decided to end his career following a successful performance at this summer’s World University Games in Russia.
It was a decision he’d been contemplating for a few months, especially with his focus moving toward making his businesses more successful.
“Due to the entrepreneurial venture I was launching this past year, I was forced to do a lot of training on my own,” Small said. “Finishing WUGS with a faster finals time than what I swam in the finals at the Olympic Trails was very encouraging, and proved that I had enough knowledge of the sport to compete at the highest level.”
And while he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of “coming back” for the 2016 Olympic Trials, particularly because he swam fast at WUGs, Small said his new business venture will keep him close to the sport and the athletes.
“I hope to gain support from USA Swimming and the Paralympic community as a way of promoting these unique toys to children with special needs,” Small said. “Being recognized by the Paralympic community as a source of functional sensory toys means we can help children with special needs develop into future champions both in and out of competition.
“Depending on how I feel, where my business is and if I can support myself financially, I would love nothing more than to spend a year training and give 2016 a try. Anthony Ervin is living proof that if you have the experience, mindset and drive to compete, there is always a chance.”
Footnote: PlayAbility Toys is currently offering a Holiday Toy Give-Away. Parents can nominate their child to receive a free gift this holiday season. If you know any special needs children, go to www.Playabilitytoys.com and follow the banner to the online application.