Adaptive Sports Provide Opportunities to Enjoy the World
Growing up, I never had the privilege of being trained by a Boston Marathon winner (let alone an eight time winner!), or skated with pro-hockey players, or hung out with Olympic athletes on the slopes. My daughter, Kelsey, has, and she doesn't think there is anything unusual or extraordinary about it. These are her coaches, her colleagues and her mentors. This is the world that adaptive sports opens up to those who choose to get off the sidelines.
We have spent the last ten plus years traveling to wheelchair basketball and sled hockey tournaments, track and field competitions, adaptive ski schools, and now, powerlifting competitions around the country. Along the way, we have spent many nights in handicap accessible hotel rooms, lugged awkward (and expensive) equipment through airports, and gotten so much into a rental car that we even shocked ourselves! It's been quite a ride, and it has taught us a few things about ourselves and the community of disabled athletes.
Disabled athletes don't always get to choose where they are going to end up and whether it will be an accessible accommodation or not. They take what they get, laugh about the mishaps, and focus on the competition. My daughter watched a group of adult sled hockey players ride the escalator in their wheelchairs at the airport because there wasn't enough room in the elevator. She thought that was the coolest thing ever! I certainly didn't condone it, but it never dawned on me that she had never experienced something as simple as an escalator. So, one day, when we couldn't find the elevator at Penn Station, she had no choice. We carefully held her as she rode the escalator. She still talks about it to this day.
There is also a lot of camaraderie in the athlete community, even if you aren't on the same team. One year, we were all going to Hockey Nationals and there were two teams getting on the same plane. There were almost 20 wheelchairs! Needless to say, I ended up organizing everyone according to walking ability to assist the gate crew in getting everyone loaded without it taking forever. Everyone helped each other out; older athletes took the younger ones under their wings, and they all wondered at the predicament the flight crew had in trying to store all those wheelchairs and walkers. It was a party all the way to Buffalo, New York!
We've had our share of mishaps, like the the shuttle bus that was "supposed" to be handicap accessible in Philadelphia that never came. We were left standing out in the rain with a hockey bag, wheelchair, and two suitcases, and the accessible hotel room that we had reserved, and confirmed, with a roll-in shower that was given away when we arrived at our destination. Somehow, even though we had these issues, our athlete families have helped each other out. We've shared shower chairs, rides to events, even roll-in showers.
When our events finish for the day, we take over hotel lobbies and pool decks, enjoying each other's company and catching up with friends from around the world that we only get to see a couple times a year. This is the best part of the competition! We've made lifelong friends who we will continue to cheer on for many years to come. Many times, we take extra side trips when the competition is over, kayaking in Idaho, touring the Hudson River, visiting the Liberty Bell, and peering over Niagara Falls.
Disabled sports competitions take you to places you may never even know existed! This April, Kelsey will be competing in her first international competition in Dubai. She is so excited, but she had to look it up on the map! The world has opened up to her and to many of our disabled athlete friends. I only hope it will continue to bring adventures and challenges that bring smiles to their faces.
The opportunities to participate in sports are many, and continue to grow. We are affiliated with Great Lakes Adaptive Sports in Illinois. On any given Saturday, athletes are participating in bocce ball, basketball, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, archery, or track. These adaptive sports allow everyone to participate to the level that they are most comfortable. Adaptive sports are growing around the world, so you can most likely find a sport you can enjoy, including adaptive boating, regardless of your ability.
If you are interested in learning more about adaptive sports in the United States, you can go to Disabled Sports USA or Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA. International athletes can check out the International Paralympic Committee or International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports.