By Teresa Varley
Steelers.com It's no secret many in the Steelers locker room love playing video games, so when they were able to combine that fun, competitive aspect with helping a good cause it was a no-brainer.
Max Starks and his wife, Dr. Tiffany Calloway-Starks, hosted Gridiron Gaming at UPMC Mercy to benefit the UPMC Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (IRR) and some of his teammates happily attended, signing autographs and then playing Nintendo Wii video games with those in attendance.
The goal of the event is to develop wellness programming for people with physical disabilities and announce the establishment of their gaming and robotics center. Those with disabilities aren't often able to go to a regular gym, so establishing a place for them to go where they can get much needed physical activity with others in similar situations is a key.
"One of the things we wanted to do was have an exercise facility for our patients that completed their rehab course," said Calloway-Starks. "A place for them to go that is geared toward them, the equipment suits them and they feel comfortable being at that place."
Nintendo Wii is an ideal rehab tool for many patients, something that they are able to do to maintain physical activity and gain arm strength as it's not just about hitting a control button, but instead being active.
"When you are having fun your heart rate goes up and you want to come to therapy," said Dr. Mike Boninger, the IRR director. "It's like you are not coming to therapy. You are having fun.
"Rehabilitation is about teaching your body to move. It's a repetitive movement, relearning to use your arm after a stroke requires repetition. When you add games into the equation it makes the repetition fun. You can get addicted to a video game, and if you do to the video games it helps your arm get strong."
Mario Calabro, who spent two months at the facility because of a spinal cord injury, has already benefited from using the gaming and robotics for his rehab and even went against cornerback Deshea Townsend in Wii.
"One thing that helped me out to break the monotony was the Wii," said Calabro. "It gave me a chance to use my hands more and to play games like boxing, bowling or baseball and things like that."
Others took turns in Wii bowling against Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex, basketball against Townsend and Ryan Clark, and various other games against Limas Sweed, Hines Ward, James Farrior, Darnell Stapleton, Justin Hartwig and of course Starks.
"It's fun and it promotes activity," said Starks, who also visited patients with some of his teammates before the event started. "You have to physically move to play the games. They have other aspects too to help individuals who may not be fully able, but can be on the same plane as everybody else.
"I didn't know about the struggles people with disabilities go through and Tiffany helped me understand that. I figured what better way to bring my teammates out here and play video games. We are big kids and we are happy we can play games to make a difference."
To view a full photo gallery by Teresa Varley, click on Gridiron Games and go to Off the Field.