Enjoying Sports If You Have a Disability

Imagine feeling the spray of water in your face as you kayak down a roaring river, or feeling the wind whip against your skin as you ski down a snow-covered mountain. Sports, such as kayaking, skiing, basketball or cycling, bring great joy to many people’s lives.  People living with disabilities, such as paralysis or amputation, are no different.

While many people think of only the most common adaptive sports for people with disabilities, such as wheelchair basketball and hand cycling, any sport can be modified. Physical activities such as snowboarding, sailing, rock climbing, volleyball, scuba diving, rowing, swimming and golf, to name a few, can all be adapted to suit the needs of a person with a disability.

The types of modifications needed depend on the disability. In skiing, for example, a person with an amputation can successfully ski down a mountain by using outriggers, which are like crutches with ski tips attached to the bottom. People with a spinal cord injury can use a mono-ski or bi-ski and glide down the mountain sitting down.  Skiers with visual impairments can ski with a guide who “calls” the turns and describes the terrain.

Adaptive sports allow those with disabilities to get back to doing what they love, or even discover an entirely new sport or activity.  Just like any athlete, those with disabilities have varied goals, from weight control and socialization to confidence building.  Competition can range from the local level all the way to the Paralympic Games

For the purposes of competition, each adaptive sport also has its own classification system so that participants can be put into groups based on their functional abilities.  This allows athletes to compete against people with similar function.

Just about every sport has its own adaptive association. Locally, I teach adaptive skiing at Camelback Mountain. To find a more complete list of all adaptive sports available, go online and visit the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports. In addition, Good Shepherd’s Optimal Fitness  gym offers opportunities for everyone to get in shape using equipment that is accessible to people of all abilities.

A disability doesn’t have to completely change your life. You can still enjoy the things you love, just in alternative ways.  In my experience with adaptive rowing it’s great to see people who usually move around in a wheelchair enjoy the freedom of movement just like any other rower.  Each adaptive sport provides similar rewards for athletes with a disability.

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