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Adaptive sports for all levels of ability
June 22, 2012 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Adaptive sports are generally limited to people with disabilities. What if everyone participated in adaptive sports?
posted by chickenmagazine (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm for it. I've seen Murderball.
posted by cmoj at 11:41 AM on June 22, 2012


No one has to wait until they have completely lost the use of a limb or one of the senses in order to participate. What if the black line demarcating so-called able-bodied sports from adaptive sports was a giant grey continuum?

I am spinning around in glee I love this essay so much! Sports are for everyone!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


This should turn into a fight worth watching when the first fully-abled wheelchair racer takes gold somewhere.
posted by darksasami at 11:46 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


A fully-abled wheelchair racer who is a female with higher-than-average testosterone count and subsequently always wins against average-testosterone female fully-abled wheelchair racers.
posted by bleep at 11:50 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Paraplegics deal with a lot more problems than just not being able to walk.
posted by stbalbach at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having wheelchair racing as a summer olympic event is a great idea, but this...

I have run dozens of 5ks, but now I’m aiming to do one this way.

...that won't fly, not competitively. We can't have wheelchair marathoners competing in the same race as shoe-leather marathoners because the runners would all be destroyed. World record times for wheelchair marathon are a half-hour shorter.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:56 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Able bodied people participating in adaptive sports means lots more research and refinement in the technologies the sports rely on. So I'm all for it.
posted by ocschwar at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love this writer's perspective, that with more people involved in adaptive sports, adaptive sports are taken more seriously, adaptive-sports athletes are not asterisked when written about, and the cost of adaptive gear eventually comes down. All those are great outcomes.

Not everyone who decides to participate in adaptive sports will have such lofty goals, though. Not mentioned is disabled athletes getting shafted by able-bodied competitors, or how the sliding scale of qualifying would apply to, for example, the Special Olympics. Would my niece with Down syndrome be running her races against a kid who qualifies for the games because he has a C average?

Sitting on the fence on this one.
posted by headnsouth at 12:00 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


World record times for wheelchair marathon are a half-hour shorter.
I don't think the author is planning to compete against other runners, only other wheelchair racers (whether they be paralysed or not). Even if he's the only racer, he can race against his "Personal Best time" like most marathoners (who aren't Kenyan).
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2012


This already happens, to a very limited extent. I have heard multiple account of wheelchair basketball teams who have one or two able-bodied players. Anecdata, I know, but still interesting.

In high school gym class, we actually played wheelchair basketball for several classes. The school had enough sports wheelchairs to field a team, despite not actually fielding a team, so it was incorporated into the curriculum. It's a fun and challenging sport.
posted by asnider at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2012


What if the Special Olympics was more General?
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:20 PM on June 22, 2012


I don't mean to be crass, but why aren't there many winter sports for paraplegics? Maybe figure skating is out of the question, but surely the ski jump would be more entertaining with the addition of wheelchairs.

That still seems pretty crass, even when I say I don't mean it. It's very hard to make a joke about somebody in a wheelchair, unless you're actually in one. Almost everyone I've known who was confined to a wheelchair has had to develop an interesting sense of humor about it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:28 PM on June 22, 2012


headnsouth: "Would my niece with Down syndrome be running her races against a kid who qualifies for the games because he has a C average?"

This is already an issue.

I have a friend who competes in (Legs/Trunk/Arms) adaptive rowing, because he has one mostly-paralyzed leg. He's quite good, but has a distinct disadvantage over adaptive athletes who are blind or have some sort of upper-body impairment. Rowing's all about leg strength.

He could compete in a Trunk/Arms-only event, but that's also complicated, as the athletes who compete in TA (because it's literally impossible for them to row LTA) feel like they're being stiffed.

Among other things, having working legs makes it a lot easier to maintain a good state of cardiovascular fitness and abdominal strength.

I'm all for inclusiveness, but worry that this sort of thing could lead to problems if not implemented very, very carefully.
posted by schmod at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


An unfortunate thing about adaptive sports is that there is always lots and lots of room for debate on how to make them fair. (For example: in wheelchair races, should amputees be made to carry lead weights to make up for their lost leg(s)?)

There's no way around it. If a sport relies on too much technology, then you can win by having better engineers designing your tech, or more "lawyerly" engineers looking at the rules and finding loopholes.

And that's true whether able bodied people take part or not.
posted by ocschwar at 12:30 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would my niece with Down syndrome be running her races against a kid who qualifies for the games because he has a C average?

Isn't this already a problem in adaptive sports? I remember during Aimee Mullins' TED talk (which if you have not seen, everybody, go watch it), she was saying that when she showed up for her first adaptive footrace, she found herself (with two prosthetic lower legs) mostly facing people who had, IIRC, only partial or missing arms.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:57 PM on June 22, 2012


If you have never seen competitive Goalball, I highly recommend it. When I went to a competition to watch I was asked by lots of players to try it. It is a game for blind and partially sighted players and the field is leveled since ALL players wear blindfolds and floor lines are textured for touch..
posted by Isadorady at 12:59 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Almost everyone I've known who was confined to a wheelchair has had to develop an interesting sense of humor about it.

I broke my hip badly a few years ago and was in a wheelchair for 3+ months. I didn't develop much of a humor about it but it was a powerfully transformative experience--it did gave me some valuable personal insight about what it might be like to live in a wheelchair permanently.

I wasn't able to walk on my own for about 9 months, and then another month or so before I could run again. I promised myself I would never take the ability to run for granted. I run a little bit every single day.

I can get this author's intent, but what she/he is really talking about is limited disability, i.e. she had to give up running so she started racing wheelchairs. I just don't see the appeal for able-bodied athletes.

I mean, blind baseball or wheelchair basketball are different--it's a different game. With racing, though, I can't see using a wheelchair when you can run. It seems odd to me, but no more than bobsledding, I guess.

And yeah, what schmod said. Opening up competitions to fully abled persons seems problematic for many reasons.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that there.s a steady erosion of sorts in adaptive sports. Always more and more "abled" people participating, the constant tension over fairness that others have mentioned. For most sports, just opening them up to everyone is de facto a means of killing them.

I guess I just don't think there's a long-term solution. It's one of those problem sets that has to be continually solved and re-solved. And we should probably just accept that, because anyway, the solutions that come of that will tend to work better for the people involved. Sure, you won't have canonical sports records, but is that really such a great loss?
posted by lodurr at 1:54 PM on June 22, 2012


With racing, though, I can't see using a wheelchair when you can run.

Well, for starters, it's a hell of a lot less poundy on the joints, and less bouncy for the bouncy parts, and less chafey for the chafey parts. And it's more stable than a bike.

Honestly, I could see myself considering this.
posted by Madamina at 2:05 PM on June 22, 2012


why aren't there many winter sports for paraplegics

There's a lot of support for adaptive skiing via folks like DSUK.

Here's the UK Combined Services Disabled Ski Team (pics)

Dude who broke his back doing a back flip comes back and does a back flip using a sit ski
posted by emilyw at 2:10 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


With racing, though, I can't see using a wheelchair when you can run. It seems odd to me, but no more than bobsledding, I guess.

Well, why run when you can ride a bike? Why have bike races when we have motorcycles? Why race motocross when we have NASCAR? And, further, why do any of this stuff when there can only be one best wheelchair racer, or bike rider, or runner, in the entire world?

It seems to me that there.s a steady erosion of sorts in adaptive sports. Always more and more "abled" people participating, the constant tension over fairness that others have mentioned. For most sports, just opening them up to everyone is de facto a means of killing them.

This is always such a defensive posture to me, and I can never understand what it's defending. The vast majority- I mean, like, literally probably 99.95%- of athletic endeavors that people participate in happen away from elite competition and in divisions graded and arranged to account for things like age, gender, relative ability (why have handicaps in golf otherwise?), size or weight of the competitor, whether the competitor uses steroids or not (see "natural" and "competitive" body-building and fitness shows) and size of the population the competitor comes from. People just like to play games and learn skills and do fun shit with their friends, and when mostly left alone, they'll come up with ways to make it fair. People pretty intuitively understand that having, say, a nine-year-old girl lose to a 21-year-old man in the 50-meter dash is unfair. There is a lot of stuff that happens, basically, on the ground, in terms of norming competition for people of differing skill levels and natural ability that can be applied to rearranging physical games and blurring the lines between adaptive and non-adaptive sports.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:16 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a quad, my knee-jerk reaction to this is a very clique-ish, "uh, how about no." I realize that it might get more attention on adaptive sports if able-bodied athletes participated, but I'm afraid it would end up being more of the kind of condescending, precious "look at me, I'm disability-aware! I race a handbike!" attention that is...not helpful.

Able bodied people participating in adaptive sports means lots more research and refinement in the technologies the sports rely on.

I'm going to sprinkle more cynicism around and say...not necessarily. And, if so, not necessarily in any way that will be helpful to individuals with disabilities. For example, research on developing better handbikes for able-bodied individuals won't help develop better handbikes for people like me, who have to worry about a lack of trunk control, limited arm muscle use, no grip, etc etc etc, that able-bodied athletes don't have to worry about.

I have doubts, is what I'm saying basically. In my black cloud way.
posted by clavier at 2:23 PM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


I just popped in to say that last night I dreamed I was surfing. In the dream, I was like, wow, as I'm paralyzed I must be using a very special surfboard.

Also, not Special Olympics. Paralympics, or however it's spelled. There's a difference.
posted by angrycat at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


People pretty intuitively understand that having, say, a nine-year-old girl lose to a 21-year-old man in the 50-meter dash is unfair.

Yes, but that's apples and oranges. What about a 12-year-old girl whose disability includes significant muscle, joint, and nerve issues competing in the 50-yard-dash against a 12-year-old girl who's hearing-impaired but the fastest kid in three counties? What if the second girl has a cochlear implant so can hear as well as you and me? What about a 12-year-old girl who doesn't have a handicap but tore her ACL playing soccer last season and is getting back into shape?

On paper it's the same, and who would tell the deaf girl she's not handicapped enough to participate? And the ACL injury is comparable to the author in the OP, an able-bodied athlete who finds herself unable to compete in her sport of choice. But how is that fair to the kid who fights chronic pain and takes powerful, toxic meds every day just to be able to walk?
posted by headnsouth at 2:35 PM on June 22, 2012


One disadvantage with adaptive sports is that many sports carry over into other parts of a normal life. For instance, any sport in which you run will maybe you a better runner and probably also a better hiker, walker, backpacker, etc. Adaptive sports are less likely, from what I have seen, to have motions that carry over to other activities in useful ways (at least for normally abled people).
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:36 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would my niece with Down syndrome be running her races against a kid who qualifies for the games because he has a C average?
What about a 12-year-old girl whose disability includes significant muscle, joint, and nerve issues competing in the 50-yard-dash against a 12-year-old girl who's hearing-impaired but the fastest kid in three counties?


There is already a significant amount of thought behind the categories and classifications used for the Paralympics/disabled sports. Deafness is not a qualifier for the Paralympics, and in fact there is a separate event, the Deaflympics. (Some more background here)


For example, research on developing better handbikes for able-bodied individuals won't help develop better handbikes for people like me,
I'd be pretty surprised if it didn't help at all, but I can understand where you're coming from.
posted by jacalata at 3:25 PM on June 22, 2012


There is already a significant amount of thought behind the categories and classifications used for the Paralympics/disabled sports. Deafness is not a qualifier for the Paralympics, and in fact there is a separate event, the Deaflympics. (Some more background here)

Not to belabor the point, but there are hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities who participate in adaptive sports but are not in the paralympics. There are thousands of young people who participate in community-based adaptive leagues. That's who I'm talking about when I ask about the sliding scale of letting everyone participate in something that was created specifically for people who can't participate meaningfully in the mainstream equivalent.
posted by headnsouth at 4:09 PM on June 22, 2012


It seems I have commented a lot recently whilst wearing my coach hat but this stuff really is what I do day to day. In addition to coaching (ablebodied and para) I am also a para swimming classifier.

As has been hinted above many sports and sporting organizations take a much more nuanced point of view that [dis]abled. I have a passing familiarity with some other sports but I would like to speak to swimming here. We have 14 different classes, one intellectual class, 3 visual impairment and 10 ' functional'. For each of those functional classes an athlete will have 3 (possibly) different sport classifications. One for breaststroke, one for the merely events and one more for butterfly, backstroke and freestyle. Testing during classification can take the form or strength, range of motion, coordination or limb segment length measurement. The process requires a degree of visual memory and attempts to group athletes based upon the nature of their disabilitie's impact on said athletes ability to move water, maintain body position and hold form over time. One of the trickier parts of the process is determining how much of a young/green swimmer's current ability is limited (currently) by disability or lack of experience. Hence classification is done in teams and is generally the result of significant discussion. A by product of this system is the fact that any of the 10 functional classes, in particular, can group athletes with widely different disabilities and diagnosises. For example, a s6 final may well feature athletes with achondroplasia dwarfism, spin bifida, cerebral palsy and multiple limb amputations.

In Canada and the US we have a relatively small number of thinly spread athletes. While championship events (Paralympics, Worlds, CanAms etc) will often have 'class finals' ( head to head racing amongst athletes with the same class for each event) most meets will not have enough athletes. In most cases each athlete will swim seeded together in the preliminary round and in a multiclass final. The trick, then, becomes deciding who wins.

For scoring swims between athletes of different classes we borrow an established idea - scoring the performance time against the class world record, or similar standard, and then awarding according to score not time. Ablebodied swimming uses the FINA point chart (basically the cube of the ratio [world record]:[performance time]) and in Canada we use an exponential curve based off of the average of the 2nd-5th all time performances.

The end result is that, for swimming at least, para swimming _is_ swimming and aside from Worlds and the Paralympics the events are integrated and the aim is to feature competition amongst equitable, if not entirely equal, competitors.
posted by mce at 4:10 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not to belabor the point, but there are hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities who participate in adaptive sports but are not in the paralympics.

Are you involved with these and talking about problems you've actually come across with different levels of disability, or just postulating that there would be problems? I'm not involved with any adaptive sports, but from the limited contact I've had (mostly assisting at local tennis tournaments) they used the same classifications even at a local level.
posted by jacalata at 5:00 PM on June 22, 2012


Are you involved with these and talking about problems you've actually come across with different levels of disability, or just postulating that there would be problems?

My niece is, and did you read the article? My comments have been in response to the "what-if" and "wouldn't it be cool if" position taken in the OP.
posted by headnsouth at 5:15 PM on June 22, 2012


I read the article as saying 'what if athletes who can no longer participate (or temporarily can't participate) in mainstream sports were more likely to join adaptive sports?' She's not suggesting that everyone jump in a wheelchair and go race, she's suggesting that people who can't run but don't think of themselves as disabled, go ahead and jump in a wheelchair for the race.

Given that community based adaptive leagues already have a system where some athletes are more capable than others, and they have classifications and strategies to let them compete against each other, I don't see adding these athletes to this pool as a new paradigm, and none of your examples really appeared to have anything to do with the article.

(Random aside - I wonder if/how Oscar Pistorius and similar cases are affecting these classifications).
posted by jacalata at 5:58 PM on June 22, 2012


> I'm not involved with any adaptive sports, but from the limited contact I've had (mostly assisting at local tennis tournaments) they used the same classifications even at a local level

I looked into adaptive sports for my son, who has autism and related stuff but is physically in fine shape, and the only ones I found lumped all the kids with disabilities together. So he was on a T-ball team with children with maybe a 12-year age range, with two children who used wheelchairs, with some severely autistic kids, one boy with dwarfism, with some who I couldn't tell what assistance they needed, etc... No classification whatsoever, other than "special needs."

But maybe as people get older and take sports more seriously there's more attention paid to them as individuals.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:00 PM on June 22, 2012


"Caveat: I believe the paralympics and other sports events should absolutely continue as they are. That’s not what this essay is about."
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:54 PM on June 22, 2012


I covered this topic 16 years ago for the Village Voice. Nondisabled athletes qualify for the T4 class in wheelchair racing; are obligatory in certain classes of blind cycling and running; and can be and are part of wheelchair-basketball and (rarely) quad-rugby teams, where a point system keeps the players with higher disabilities on court longer and more often.

People with physical disabilities, blindness, dwarfism, and certain rare disabilities grouped under les autres always compete separate from deaf people and those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. That means several of the comments in this thread are misinformed and should basically be ignored.
posted by joeclark at 11:34 AM on June 23, 2012


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