The 21 Best Wheelchair Sports You Need to Know
How far can your wheelchair take you? As far as you would like!
Aaron Fotheringham is a wheelchair user who pushes the limits of where he and his wheelchair go. Three times he’s become the WCMX champion, a sport that’s a mashup of skateboarding and BMX riding for wheelchair users.
While he’s traveled the world for competitions, he doesn’t ignore the fact that there are struggles wheelchair users face. Instead of letting the challenges limit him, he looks at the possibilities, and how his wheelchair has actually opened doors for him. “I’ve always said that my wheelchair has taken me further than my shoes ever could,” he explains.
Aaron Fotheringham isn’t the only disabled athlete to pursue his love of sport and competition.
Disabled Athletes Compete in Professional and Olympic Sports
Take Jim Abbot, for example. Not too many major league pitchers have thrown no-hitters. But that’s what Jim Abbot of the New York Yankees did in a 1993 game against the Indians.
What’s amazing about that feat is Jim Abbot was born without a left hand. He didn’t let his disability stop him from achieving his dream of playing major league baseball. Which he did, for ten seasons.
Many other disabled athletes compete and win against able-bodied competitors. Just to name a few:
· Baxtor Humby, another athlete with only one hand, won a world title in kickboxing.
· Dan Stevens, born without legs, made it into major league baseball and even pinch-hit for Daryl Strawberry.
· Natalie du Toit lost the lower portion of her leg after a car accident. Seven years later, she qualified for the Olympics, the third amputee to do so.
· Kyle Maynard was born without arms or legs yet has been a fierce competitor in mixed martial arts and is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
These are just a few athletes who didn’t let the fact of a disability prevent them from competing in a sport at its highest levels.
For many wheelchair users, however, the idea of participating in sports can feel like an impossible dream. They long for the days when they would challenge themselves athletically and experience the thrill of competition. Others miss the sense of belonging and connection they feel as part of a team.
Still, others long to feel the wind in their faces, whether on snowy ski slopes or the open water. Many crave the physical and mental challenges of sports. Still, others just want a fun way to stay as active as possible for the sake of their health and well-being.
All this is possible for wheelchair users.
21 Sports for Wheelchair Users
While you might not have dreams of playing in the majors or winning Olympic gold, there are many sports you can take part in because they’ve been adapted for wheelchair users. Some are mashups of a few popular sports. Others make a few rules changes or other adaptations.
Many of these sports have wheelchair sports organizations or sports federations, regulatory bodies that organize tournaments and competitions, sometimes on the international level, including the Paralympics.
Here is a list of wheelchair sports that wheelchair users can enjoy:
Basketball was one of the first sports to be adapted for wheelchair users, way back in 1956. This sport appeals to those who love fast-moving games that combine precision and strength.
The only major rule adaptation involves traveling. Most players use adapted wheelchairs with cambered wheels. This means the wheels are set at an angle, to give better side-to-side stability and make turning the hand rims easier and more ergonomic.
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
Wheelchair rugby got its start in Winnipeg, Canada in 1976. This contact sport combines hockey, basketball, and volleyball into a challenging and enjoyable game for anyone who loves team sports. Teams can be made up of men, women, or both, up to six per side. A few adaptive rule changes have been made. For example, both wheels of the chair must cross the goal line for the score to count.
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
If contact sports aren’t for you, then wheelchair softball might be your game. Many wheelchair users enjoy it because it’s easy for them to see when their hitting, throwing, and catching skills improve, leading to a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
The rules of 16-inch slow pitch softball are followed, with a few exceptions. One is that there each team must have one or more quadriplegics in active play at all times. Bases can be tagged with one or more wheels, or by hand. Like many other wheelchair sports, a special sports wheelchair is needed.
Wheelchair soccer is usually played on a basketball court with an oversized soccer ball and combines elements of soccer, basketball, and handball. Five players make up each side and a few rules have been adapted or added. For example, players cannot exceed ten miles per hour and ramming other players is not permitted.
Wheelchair hockey is also played on a basketball court. A plastic ball is used instead of a puck and the sticks are also made of plastic. A few rules changes include the restriction that goalies can’t freeze the ball and have a limited range where they can move. Like basketball, hockey is another fast-paced game that builds teamwork.
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
Even American football has been adapted for wheelchair players. A regulation-sized foam football is used. The game can be played indoors on a basketball court or outdoors on a court or parking lot. Teams are generally six players and are often coed. Players are classified by level of disability, and the rules vary by classification.
Tennis is among the most popular of wheelchair sports. It’s played on a regular tennis court in sports wheelchairs with cambered wheels. A few minor rules changes have been made, such as the ball can bounce twice before a player hits it.
The game can be played singles, doubles, or up-down doubles, meaning one wheelchair user and one standing player per side. This unique feature allows wheelchair users to engage in sports with able-bodied friends and relatives.
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
8. Table Tennis
Wheelchair table tennis is a fast-moving game that easily accommodates different abilities. It’s also a non-contact sport that keeps you mentally sharp. The usual table tennis rules apply, with a few modifications.
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
One of the simplest sports to learn, wheelchair bowling allows participants to bowl at their own pace. It’s also an easy sport to see improvements, making it a fun and rewarding sport for many.
It’s played in standard bowling lines using the standard scoring. One of the most important adaptations is that the ball must be released from a fixed position. Helpers can position the ball, but they can’t touch the ball once they’ve set it in place. After that, it’s up to the wheelchair athlete to set the ball in motion to knock down the pins.
Proper strength training is important for everyone who’s interested in staying healthy and preventing injury. Wheelchair users with the use of their arms are especially prone to shoulder injuries, so strength training is vital to helping them maintain independence. Lifting weights are one of the most popular ways to increase strength.
While most wheelchair athletes limit their strength training to sessions at home or in a gym, others choose to compete in bodybuilding and weightlifting competitions.
The great thing about archery is it can be done year-round. Rules and scoring are the same as Olympic archery and most people don’t need adaptive equipment. A few adaptations include a mechanical release for the bow or using an assistant to nock the arrow. People compete in categories depending on their level of disability. Archery is a great confidence builder as you see your ever-improving score, and it helps improve focus and patience.
Are you the kind of person who loves competing against a single opponent? Then wheelchair fencing could be the sport for you. A few rule changes have made fencing accessible to wheelchair users.
One of these is that each participant’s wheelchair must be anchored to the floor in metal frames. Although the duelers cannot move back and forth, no restrictions are placed on upper body motion, making the bouts every bit as fast, intense and thrilling as standard fencing. Special wheelchairs and body armor are a must.
13. Wheelchair Racing
Some call it chairing, the wheelchair version of foot races. Whatever it’s called, there’s no shortage of excitement and drama as competitors strive to be the first to cross the finish line. But this sport doesn’t just involve sprints over a set distance. Other events include middle distance racing of 800 and 1500 meters, long distances of 5000 and 10,000 kilometers, and relays.
Wheelchair racing requires significant upper body strength, as no mechanical gears or levers can be used to move the chair. Some racers manage to go as fast as 30 kilometers per hour.
Special racing wheelchairs are needed. The two large wheels in the back work with the smaller single wheel in the front for stability and speed. Serious competitors, such as those who compete in the Paralympics, even get custom made racing chairs for maximum comfort and efficiency.
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
14. Mountain Biking
Speeding down a mountain over bumps and the rough ground is a sure way to satisfy anyone who craves speed. Wheelchair mountain bikers use an adapted four-wheeled chair equipped with hand breaks, along with protective gear such as a helmet.
15. Snow Skiing
If it’s winter sports you love, seeing the sun on the snow and breathing crisp cold air, your wheelchair doesn’t have to keep you off the slopes. Many have learned to ski using adapted skis. Some resorts have been welcoming disabled skiers for decades, offering classes and equipment rentals.
As an alternative to skis, wheelchair users often take on the challenge of snowboarding. Many believe that it accommodates their disability better than skiing does and that they feel less likely to injure themselves.
Some are content with just gliding down gentle slopes. Others have mastered halfpipe, slopestyle or backcountry terrain. All it takes is the adaptive equipment and the patience and desire to learn.
17. Water Skiing
If you love being on the water and going at high speeds, water skiing could be the sport for you. Instead of skis, participants use adapted devices such as sit-skis, outriggers, and shoulder slings. Some even work on perfecting advanced moves like slalom, jumping and other tricks.
Those who love the thrill of riding the waves can take up wheelchair surfing. Surfboards are adapted to give the rider stability. By using all-terrain surf chairs and custom ramps, many riders are able to independently wheel onto the board.
With an adapted sailboat, a life vest and few other pieces of adaptive equipment, you could set sail to enjoy a day on the open water. Many wheelchair users revel in the sense of taking control of the boat while navigating the wind and waves.
If fun in the snow or water is too tame, you can take to the skies and give paragliding a try. Using a special three-wheeled chair, you’ll be able to soar up to 1500 feet and treat yourself to a thrilling view.
21. Tandem skydiving
And for the ultimate in thrills, there’s skydiving. Wheelchair users are secured to an able-bodied instructor for the ride. As much as possible, though, the wheelchair user pulls the cords and controls the descent.
Many Wheelchair Bound Sports Accessible
This list gives you just a few of the options available to wheelchair users. Hand cycling, hunting, kayaking, rafting, scuba, and martial arts are also adaptable to meet the needs of wheelchair users. Think about what sports appeal to you and get started.
As always, safety has to come first. Check with your doctor to make sure you have the abilities necessary to participate and how you can meet the demands of the sport. You’ll also want to check into what equipment you’ll need.
So, what are you waiting for? There’s a team, league or club waiting for you to join them, to take part in the challenges, competition, and camaraderie that only sports can offer.
Take the opportunity to motivate yourself to achieve more than you thought possible. Maybe you’ll even make it to a national or international championship.
How far will your wheelchair take you?