Wheelchair sports developed concurrently in England and America after World War II. In England, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, director of the National Spine Injuries Centre, introduced wheelchair sports and wheelchair exercises as therapy for paraplegic war veterans. Guttmann recognized that participation in athletics had both physical and psychological value for individuals paralyzed from trauma or disease.
In the United States, the wheelchair sports movement originated from the desire of disabled World War II veterans to engage in competitive sports. The first competitive sport organized for the physically disabled was wheelchair basketball, which began in several Veterans Administration hospitals as early as 1945, under the auspices of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. In 1949, five community-based basketball teams from the Midwest and one team from Hines Veterans Administration Hospital in suburban Chicago participated in the first National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Galesburg, Ill. At the end of the tournament, the participants agreed to repeat the event annually and to establish the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) to govern the sport.
The wheelchair sports movement in the United States was associated exclusively with basketball until 1957, when the first National Wheelchair Games were held in New York. A year later, the National Wheelchair Athletic Association (NWAA) was established to provide opportunities for disabled athletes to participate in sports other than basketball. The NWAA now governs competition in air gun shooting, archery, swimming, table tennis, weight lifting, and track and field events, and it sponsors annual national competitions in these wheelchair sports. National associations also exist for the wheelchair sports of bowling, racketball, softball and tennis.
In 1976, the first Olympiad for the Physically Disabled was held in Toronto, Ontario. More than 1,500 blind, paralyzed and amputee athletes from 38 countries participated in these games. The Toronto Games represented the emergence of athletic competitions for the disabled as sporting events in their own right.(3) In October 1988, approximately 3,000 athletes competed in 19 events at the Eighth Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea.
In wheelchair sports competition, the degree of disability becomes the critical factor in performance. To provide fair and equal competition, medical classification systems have been devised to ensure that individuals with a similar degree of disability compete against each other. Thus, a quadriplegic athlete with limited hand function is not required to compete against an above-knee amputee athlete with normal upper extremity function.
1. Wheelchair Archery – An Introduction To The Challenging Game
For disabled persons, life is a constant challenge. The everyday activities, most people take for granted, can be extremely frustrating and time consuming. Simply getting dressed is a major undertaking-every morning. Especially for individuals confined to a wheelchair after an accident, adjusting to life without walking can seem like a death sentence. Without hope and a sense of purpose, the wheelchair-bound have a sad quality of life. Thus, realizing the handicapped are quite capable of being productive and active member of society, the sports world has created many contests and sports events to specifically include the wheelchair-bound citizens. Amazing, wheelchair archery is becoming an increasingly popular sport for the able-bodied and the physically challenged.
For many disabled individuals, wheelchair archery does not require any special accommodations like a sports wheelchair. However, some people prefer to remove the armrest to improve aim. For others, a recurve 48-inch bow is recommended because the bow is lighter and easier to control. For persons with little arm strength, devices to help hold the bow may be allowed. Quadriplegics may have an assistant to help place the arrow in the bow, but verbal advice is against the rules.
Archery contests are for single, double, and group competitors. The contestants are in AR1 (standing archers), WAR1 (wheelchair archers with use of the upper extremities, and WAR2 (quadriplegics). Other than the minimal accommodations allowing handicapped competitors, the tournament rules are the same for standing and sitting archers. Disabled persons are quite capable of competing again their able-bodied opponents.
Although outsiders may initially think the rules should be more lenient for the disabled, people participating in wheelchair archery appreciate the opportunity to be treated as another other sportsperson. The thrill of competing, participating in sports, and healthy exercise should not be diminished. Wheelchair archery provides an enjoyable diversion from the frustrating challenges of living a disabled life. For a time, wheelchair archery levels the playing field, and the handicapped are vital and alive, like everyone else.
Wheelchair archery is not simply a sport to the handicapped. Wheelchair archery is a chance to be normal, a boost in self-esteem, an opportunity to get some much-needed exercise, and an activity to add adventure to the restrictive life of the disabled. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and always cheering on other athletes, wheelchair archery allows the physically challenged unique occasions to hear cheers from the benches.
In summary, live life to the fullest, despite physically handicapped. Wheelchair archery is an excellent competitive sport for anyone, regardless of ability. So, grab the wheels, or the joystick and enjoy life with the competitive sport of wheelchair archery.
Archery Wheelchair 1 (ARW1): Archers in this class have a disability in their arms and legs (tetraplegia). They have limited range of movement, strength and control of their arms and poor or non-existing control of the trunk. The legs are considered non-functional, due to amputation and/or similar limitations of movement, strength and control. They compete in a wheelchair.
Archery Wheelchair 2 (ARW2): Archers in this class have paraplegia and limited mobility in the lower limbs. These athletes require a wheelchair for everyday use and compete in a wheelchair.
2. Wheelchair Basketball – A Physical Game
For many sports enthusiasts, participation is sports activities help define who they are as a person. Athletics are an integral part of the family history. Cheering on the sidelines can be fun, but the actual competition is enticing, and being a bystander is definitely not where many individuals want to be. Handicapped people are no different than the general population. Therefore, sports, like wheelchair basketball can make all the difference in the self-esteem and quality of life for the disabled.
Wheelchair basketball began after World War II, when many men came home in wheelchairs. Once active and able-bodied, the veterans needed a familiar pastime, a diversion, and some competition. Enter, wheelchair basketball. The rules are basically the same. For example, despite playing from a seated position, the net is not lowered to accommodate the handicapped. However, because of the wheelchairs, “traveling” had to be redefined. In wheelchair basketball, the wheels must not be touched more than twice before dribbling or passing the ball. If so, traveling is called, and the same rules apply.
The only other noticeable differences are the sports wheelchairs used. With extremely low backs, minimal sides, a trimmer frame, and inward tilting wheels, the athlete is faster and able to lean into turns, for optimal control of the ball. Once people figured out wheelchair basketball is a truly competitive sport, and not some show of mercy, wheelchair basketball teams continued to be formed and grow. Today, women have their own wheelchair basketball teams.
As popularity grew, normal, healthy athletes chose to compete against wheelchair athletes. The only concession, sit down and be prepared for a close, competitive game. On the court, all bets are off. People have learned not to underestimate the abilities of wheelchair athletes. Do wheelchairs fly? One begins to wonder, after watching a close game of wheelchair basketball.
In conclusion, sports are not limited by physical ability; athleticism is determined by sheer willpower, and the desire to work real hard and make dreams become a reality. A person’s value and spirit should not be judged by a physical handicap. Today, thousands of athletes all over the world witness to others regarding the power of desire and determination. Conversely, many want to-be players cheer on the sidelines and never get past the dreaming stage. Why? Fear? Self doubt? No more! Instead, step up to the line, and get into the game. Maybe not all games will be won, at first. Maybe an opponent is a truly gifted athlete. Who cares?! The point is, wheelchair-bound athletes can play the game, and win a zest for life.
3. Wheelchair Tennis – Cardiovascular Exercise
Participating in sports activities is an excellent way to get good cardiovascular exercise, make new friends who share common interests, and satisfy the competitive beast within all humanity. People in wheelchairs are no exception. Thus, wheelchair tennis is one of the fastest growing sports.
One has to wonder how wheelchair tennis differs from the able-bodies version. With the speed of the ball, pumping a manual chair, controlling the racket seems too difficult. Surely, accommodating rules apply to make the game a little more handicapped-user friendly.
Actually, wheelchair tennis is played exactly the same as regular tennis, with only one alteration: instead of once, the wheelchair tennis player can allow the ball to bounce twice. The disabled player is in peak physical condition. Also, the ability to totally control the wheelchair is a must. With excellent upper body strength, a mastery of the wheelchair, and the extra bounce, individuals with limited mobility can play tennis with other people in wheelchairs or stand up players. As with any tennis game, wheelchair competitors can play a singles or doubles game.
Speaking from personal experience, wheelchair tennis would require an exceptional athlete. Although the sports wheelchair is usually constructed with minimal seating and frame, for maneuverability, having control of the ball and the court is an awesome feat. For instance, anyone in a wheelchair knows, pumping a wheelchair with one hand will result in running in circles. So, how do disabled tennis players quickly reach the ball, have the racket ready, and keep the wheelchair from going in circles? Forget thinking wheelchair sports are any less challenging and competitive. Actually the opposite is probably true.
For the handicapped, wheelchair tennis is an excellent form of exercise, to promote cardiovascular health, maintain and improve strength and agility in the upper body, and also ensure an enjoyable quality of life. Being in a wheelchair should not be a virtual death sentence, or feeling like a health convict in prison. Life can still be rewarding from a chair. Sure, the extra challenges can get old and frustrating, but hopeful the positive aspects of life will far outweigh the negative. Toward that end, wheelchair tennis players are concentrating on abilities, rather than disabilities. So, pick up a racket and master the disability, rather than allowing the handicap to become the master.
4. Wheelchair Skiing
Extreme sport for the disabled is not for the faint at heart. To participate in an adaptive sport, the handicapped need an adventuresome spirit, a lot of guts, and maybe a little measure of daredevil insanity. Wheelchair skiing must certainly be at the top of the list of extreme sports for the handicapped.
Imagine sailing down the side of a mountain at 60 mph. The wind whips past the ears, the trees are blurred, and other skiers are colorful thoughts on the horizon. Now imagine being paralyzed from the waist down and strapped into a ski chair. Wow! For a moment in time, the handicapped skier is just like everyone else on the slopes. Nature and speed are sources of exhilaration rather than elements of consternation and frustration. Soaring down the side of a mountain, the handicap is all but forgotten and living is pure joy.
Naturally, and extreme handicapped athlete cannot take the standard wheelchair down a mountain. Therefore, the creative sports enthusiast has devised a mono-ski wheelchair. The seat is streamlined and the single ski is attached to the bottom. Accessorized with modified poles for a seated skier, forearm crutches can also be altered to serve as ski poles. Now, with the Simpson adventure, an independent spirit, and an awesome love for winter sports, the disabled are ready to fly down the mountain.
However, not all handicapped individuals are capable of controlling a mono-ski. The athlete must have excellent upper body strength, a good sense of balance, and relatively no injury above the sixth vertebrae. The skier needs the ability to sway and move with the ski. Like any other skier, the disabled must be capable of maintaining the ride. A lack of concentration or any mistake will result in a nasty spill. In other words, ski lessons are necessary.
For the handicapped that have less upper body strength and a lack of balance, like persons with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, never fear, wheelchair skiing is still possible. However, instead of the streamlined chair and the mono-ski, a more supportive seat with duel skis is a safer choice. Attached skis help maintain control. The best piece of advice: start on the bunny hill like every beginner. Maybe wheelchair Olympics are in the future, but learn how to stay safe and have a wonderful time.
In conclusion, some handicapped people miss a previous ability to participate in sports. Instead of staying at home crying in the soup, check out extreme wheelchair sports. With a few modifications, the sport can be as challenging and exhilarating from a wheelchair. Skiing is no exception. Even if a handicap has always been a part of life, do not sit back and daydream of adventure. With a daredevil sense of adventure, learn how to ski and hit the slopes.
5. Wheelchair Accessible Hunting
In the previous century, hunting is a matter of survival. Meat on the table meant the family marksman successfully brought down a deer, bears, turkeys, or other small game. Today, although buying meat at the local grocery store is more convenient, men and women enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the taste of wild game, and the economic savings. Physically disabled people are no different. Even though the hunt present unique challenges, modification and a few helping hands can bring the thrill to wheelchair accessible hunting.
For the deer-hunting enthusiast, reserved areas can be set aside for wheelchair sportspersons. The disabled are escorted to an area where the deer will come to feed and drink. Although the settings have a little help from man, the deer are still fair game, when it comes to the first shot. The human help is in the form of providing feed in specific areas. The purpose is to maximize the probability of a deer being in the area. Also, the hunter will receive additional help if necessary.
Shooting houses and ground blinds are provided to help the disabled hunter remain as invisible as possible. Naturally, wheelchair hunters have the disadvantage of not being able to hide in the bush. Driven to the site, the exceptional hunter is left with a two-way radio for constant contact with help. Someone can also stay with the hunter, if necessary. In addition, people are available to pick up a successful kill.
Businesses like Challenged Sportsman Outfitters also provide optimum circumstances for a wild turkey hunt. Cognizant of current conditions, people are available to assist the hunter in moving as close to the game as possible. Then, hopefully, birdcalls will do the rest.
In addition to turkey, limited dove and duck hunts are also available. Also, other hunters may enjoy hunting in the squirrel habitat. Basically, wheelchair accessible hunting caters to the needs of many people with varying physical abilities and disabilities. Once again, creative people have had the ability to think outside the box, and enthusiasts have found a way to make hunting wheelchair accessible.
In summary, physically challenged individuals enjoy participating in the same activities able-bodies citizens enjoy. Nevertheless, many disabled people are denied the simple pleasures of living a normal life. Thanks to places like Challenged Sportsman Outfitters, hunting no longer has to be on the list of taboo activities. Depending on varying levels ability, learned people provide as much/ as little help necessary to make hunting an enjoyable for a disabled hunter and his/her family and friends.
6. Wheelchair Accessible Camping
The world is full of wonderfully scenic sites to visit and enjoy. The sights and sounds of the great outdoors cannot be duplicated by artificial means. Individuals need to go outside and experience nature in person. However, the handicapped are often kept at home. If the rest of the family goes on an outdoor excursion, the disabled are left in the capable hands of a caregiver. No more! Wheelchair accessible camping is possible. Make a list of any special needs, do a little homework, and hit the road to wilderness camping.
For many wheelchair-bound individuals, camping is something other people do, and the stuff of daydreams. Special needs often keep the handicapped at home. Unfortunately, the quality of life is less than stellar. So, to help the disabled enjoy the wonders of nature, camping areas around the world are providing areas for non-ambulatory citizens.
Many camping areas now have paved paths, with smooth and milder inclines. With RV hookups, the handicapped may enjoy all the amenities of home, except the smog. Amazingly, RV’s can be converted to wheelchair accessible transportation, like a van. Thus, the more critically disabled have access to electricity, and the other aids to make living possible.
For the less disabled wanting a more realistic experience, wheelchair accessible cabins are available. While roughing it, to a greater degree, the cabins help people with limited capabilities enjoy a more secluded, woodsy experience, without having to sacrifice safety, and a comfortable bed.
However many campers want wheelchair activities comparable to an unmodified camping experience. For the truly hardy soul, a tent is the only way to camp. With the help of a friend or family member, tent camping is possible. The accessible sites are generally more level, with paved, or evenly graded pathways. Otherwise, the experience is identical to the average camper.
In addition, an avid camper may have a sports wheelchair with off-road tires for navigating more uneven terrain. With a pair of biking gloves, many can enjoy the “hiking” experience, with minimal aid. Amazingly, some wheelchair-bound individuals have managed to climb mountains, literally.
So, get some wheelchair exercise, enjoy the great outdoors, and go camping. Do not sit back and watch other people enjoying life. Recognizing limitations and needs, find camping sites, around the world, capable of providing a safe and pleasurable camping experience. Get away from home, and the normal cares of everyday life. Leave the smog and traffic behind. Instead of buying a room freshener, take a whiff of the real outdoors, and go camping.
7. Wheelchair Track and Field: Road Racing
Athletes are an awesome segment of the population. The dedication, discipline, and determination of a serious competitor are unsurpassed. At great personal sacrifice, training is part of making sure the body is in peak condition for the next event. The life of a wheelchair athlete is no different, except for the added task of retraining various muscles to compensate for a physical disability. Wheelchair track and field, or road racing, is an excellent example of the perseverance and fortitude of disabled participants. Like all sports, wheelchair track and field, or wheelchair road racing, requires the proper equipment, physical training, and a love for competitive sports.
First, wheelchair road racing requires a specially designed racing chair. The chair has a sling for the paraplegic to literally fold into, instead of sitting in a seat. Consider the words of an Olympian wheelchair racer, found at this site, as he describes the chair and racing:
Exercise is especially important for paraplegics because they can no longer use their best aerobic equipment – their legs. That’s one of the reasons I use a racing wheelchair. A marathon in a racing wheelchair really gives my heart the aerobic workout it needs. It keeps my weight down and my arm strength up for the extra work they now have to do. I also lift weights. In my spare time I work at a regular job and go to college. I graduate this spring. (2003) In the following pictures I have tried to give you an idea of how one type of racing wheelchair works.
I thought I would start off by showing you my racing wheelchair in motion. I’m going about thirteen miles per hour here and the photo is slightly blurred because of the motion. I’m also set to go around a sharp corner, so I am steering – not pushing!
A battery powered tire pump is a great convenience. Tire pressure needs to be checked frequently and the battery powered tire pump makes it easy to add air as needed.
You can use regular bicycle wheels if you want. The push rims are attached directly to the spokes, so the spokes need to be adjusted almost daily. This takes a lot of time and effort, so I don’t use regular wheels.
I use carbon fiber tires. They cost around $1500 new. I was lucky and found some used ones for $450. Since the spokes are much sturdier, they don’t get out of adjustment like regular spokes. The body of the racer comes without wheels and costs anywhere from one to three thousand dollars. Sometimes you can find a used racing wheelchair for a lot less.
There is a small front brake, which you can use to make skid marks on the pavement, but it doesn’t stop the wheelchair quickly. You don’t usually want to slow down in a racing wheelchair anyway so it doesn’t matter much. You can see the Cateye Solar wireless computer that tells me my speed, mileage, and other data. It uses a magnetic pickup that wirelessly sends information from the front wheel to the computer.
To get into the racing wheelchair I tip it almost upright and put my feet into a nylon footrest. My knees will rest in the top part of the holder and my chest will rest on my knees. When my feet are in the right position I lean forward and the racing wheelchair tips down into its normal position. There is a Velcro strap that goes across my back. This keeps me from accidentally popping out of position. Pushing puts a considerable strain on my wrists, so I wrap them with tape. All racers wear special gloves. They cost around $50.00. The center “finger” holds three fingers and has a Velcro strap at the end. The glove has a very hard surface under your thumb and on the top of the middle fingers. That hard surface is what will make contact with the push rim. When you close your fist, the Velcro strap is wrapped around the base of your thumb and back around your wrist.
To move the racing wheelchair you press your glove against the push rim which is an aluminum tube covered with a small tire glued to the rim. Your thumb presses against the rim almost at the top. It keeps pressing against the rim pushing down and around the rim, almost making a complete circle. The more constant pressure you can exert on the rim, the more power you can transfer to the wheel. The glove stays in contact with that rim as long as possible.
Unlike regular bicycles, racing wheelchairs do not have gears. That means that it is very difficult to go up steep hills. Some hills are so steep you cannot exert enough pressure on the push rim to get up the hill. In these cases, you turn around and go up the hill backward pulling up on the tire itself – not the push rim. It may seem awkward, but sometimes it is the fastest way to go up a steep hill!
It isn’t the strongest person who wins a race, it is the person who last the longest. Racing wheelchairs is a long endurance contest. You may not be the strongest person on the racecourse, but if you can keep pushing for long periods, you may just find yourself in first place.
Wheelchair racing is definitely not a less athletic version of an able-bodied race. Imagine building arm strength similar to leg muscles. The strength of wheelchair racers is enviable! Although the equipment has been modified, superb physical conditioning is comparable to any dedicated athlete. Only a true love for competitive sports will give a wheelchair racer the fortitude to compete.