The author of this article is Genevieve Freiwald, an eighth-grade volleyball player at The Rhoades Middle School in Encinitas, California. The team is coached by Jon Aharoni, the Marines/Wounded Warriors sitting volleyball coach and the founder of ICN (It’s Called Normal) Athletics. He is also a former USA Sitting Volleyball Paralympics coach and before that coached the USA Volleyball youth beach national team.

Andres shows off his new leg

By Genevieve Freiwald for

It’s not very often that a group of girls on their middle-school volleyball team get to change someone else’s life. My teammates and I were lucky enough to have that opportunity. 

Now, we’re holding on and won’t let go. 

The Rhoades School, a private elementary and middle school in Encinitas, California, focuses on creating a welcoming and kind community for students and staff. In the classroom, students are encouraged to bond with their peers, to be adventurous and fearless, and to always have fun. This environment is far from limited to school hours, and also extends to being the primary mindset taught in Rhoades School sports. 

Here’s our story:

Jon Aharoni, our coach, is also the founder of ICN (It’s Called Normal) Athletics. 

ICN works to provide training programs, equipment, and guidance for individuals with disabilities to strengthen and build representation of adaptive athletes in the beach volleyball community, as well as making it normal for these athletes to play the sports they love and return to their lives stronger and more confident. 

As Jon says, “A lot of times in the adaptive community, people try to teach you how to reach back towards where you were, but you can never go back there. It’s more a function of embracing who you are, no matter who that person is.” 

Jon’s kind and supportive nature and his determination to create a community focused on togetherness is apparent when he coaches the Rhoades middle school team as well. 

“He is encouraging, understanding, and helpful, but most importantly, he motivates the team to share the happiness we get from volleyball with others,” said Eli Bordine, a student athlete at the Rhoades School.

So, when Andres Camilo Chacon Guerra, a former player of Jon’s in Colombia, came to him with financial concerns regarding a prosthetic leg, Jon saw a chance to share his passion with his team. 

Two years ago, Andres was a father and soccer player in Colombia. As he was walking to work one morning, he was hit by a car and severely injured. After a necessary amputation of one of his legs, Andres was having trouble adjusting. 

“When we have all our body parts, we don’t realize how important they are until we lose one and don’t get it back,” Guerra said. 

In Colombia, getting a prosthetic is not only extremely difficult but also prohibitively expensive. So Andres was left not only without one of his legs but without a prosthetic as well. 

He could no longer go to work and make money to provide for his family, and his days of walking or playing soccer seemed to be over. However, a mere four months after the accident, Andres was invited to play sitting volleyball, a sport he had never known existed. 

He decided to give it a try. 

As soon as he started playing, Andres was overwhelmed by his desire to get up off the floor and run, but he couldn’t. Despite his frustration, Andres continued attending practices, and a week later his coach informed him of a volleyball workshop a few hours away from where he lived. He debated going, as it still felt extremely strange not being able to walk or go about his life the way he used to. Nonetheless, this didn’t get in his way and he was off to the clinic. 

Having no idea where he was, what he was doing, or why he was even playing a sport he didn’t like, Andres felt out of place and lost. But as the workshop started, Andres began to bond with other adaptive athletes as well as the coach, who happened to be Jon Aharoni.

“Jon made me stand up and play on one foot,” Guerra said. “At that moment, volleyball entered my life, entered my heart, and I fell in love with it.” 

For the first time since the accident had happened, Andres felt as if it were possible for him to do something again. 

“I feel liberated when I play volleyball. I feel like I forget that I’m not complete.” 

Jon’s daughter, Jaime, also attends the Rhoades Middle school and plays for her dad on our volleyball team. 

Jaime’s father’s determination to make positive impacts in his community has rubbed off on her and created essential elements in her personality, as well. Inspired by her dad’s work with ICN, Jaime sought to bring it into her school’s community through a group in which she was a member, The Service Learning Committee. 

This club at Rhoades was started by social studies and art history teacher Julie Watts, who also acts as a mentor for students engaging in philanthropic endeavors. 

“Instead of me thinking of ideas, I want the students to come up with ideas for service learning,” she said. 

Upon introducing ICN Athletics and describing Andres’ situation to her peers, Jaime saw that everyone was just as excited and focused on helping as she was. The Service Learning Committee brainstormed, and decided the best way to help Andres was to fundraise at the school’s volleyball matches in order to most effectively promote ICN and Andres’ cause. 

During the season, volleyball players, in conjunction with Service Learning Committee members, sold baked goods, beverages and popcorn. As the championship match came to an end, with the Rhoades team emerging victorious for the second consecutive year, fundraising concluded. The money raised helped pay for Andres’ custom-built socket and contributed to shipping his prosthetic leg to him in Colombia. 

Andres Camilo Chacon Guerra when his leg arrived

At the team’s end-of-the-season celebration, we were able to do a video call with Andres and his family, and he described his experiences since the accident as well as his gratitude towards us. 

“It has been very hard for me not to have a prosthetic so this really has changed my life and made a huge difference,” he said. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.” 

One of the highlights of the call was getting to meet Andres’ eldest daughter, Marian, who had recently just won her first medal playing volleyball. After the amputation, Marian went straight up to Andres and hugged him, and throughout his journey after the accident, she has been right beside him. So, when Andres started playing volleyball, she began to play alongside him and fell in love with the sport with her dad. Had the accident not happened, Marian probably wouldn’t have started playing volleyball which demonstrates that incredible things can come from unfortunate events. 

The team meets Andres by Zoom

Being able to do this call with Andres and his family allowed the team to see the impact our time and effort had, and that created a positive feedback loop. 

Seeing someone else happy because of our actions made us want to help more people, which is one of the beautiful things about giving back. As a volleyball team at a small school in California, we were able to take a little time out of our days to make the rest of someone’s life a hundred times better. 

As Coach Aharoni reminds us, “We’re meant to be one, we aren’t meant to be separate. It’s a victory we all share.” 

If you want to learn more about ICN Athletics or make a donation to help make more stories like this a reality, please visit our website at We are already planning our next prosthetic delivery, but it will not happen without help from the community. We also would like to recognize Össur, a company that makes prosthetics, and the Challenged Athlete Foundation for donating Andres’ leg. 

Jon Aharoni and Andres in Colombia in 2021



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