Paralympics bringing able-bodied and disabled athletes together

September 15, 2016 by dccinc

The on-going paralympics in Rio has so far been a great success not only for the athletes from around the world but also for the popularity of disabled sports such as wheelchair basketball, blind skiing, etc. A recent article in CBC news by Blair Sanderson shines light on how para-sports in Canada is bridging the gap between able-bodied and disabled athletes. The article talks about how some able-bodied athletes are actually taking part is wheelchair basketball. Take a read at the excerpt below:

In the sport of wheelchair basketball, physical contact is the name of the game. The chairs themselves are built to withstand punishing hits, and Steve Sampson loves it.

“It’s fun. You’re in a go-cart, it’s very physical, you’re bumping and banging, and it’s glorious. So much fun.”

And fun is why Sampson adopted the sport — even though he has full use of his legs.

He decided to give the sport a try after seeing a game in person at the Paralympics in Beijing in 2008. He returned home, joined a recreational league, and eventually became an assistant coach for Canada’s team, which will compete at this year’s Paralympics in Rio.

Paralympics helping to bridge the gap

As you can see, able-bodied athletes are now taking part in para-sports which is helping bring the two types of athletes together, especially with the able-bodied athlete finding out what it means to live with a disability. It just helps able-bodied athletes appreciate para-sports athletes and the amount of hard work and determination it takes to be able to compete while living with a disability. Despite Canada allowing able-bodied players to take part in para-sports such as wheelchair basketball, it is not the case amongst some other countries like the United States.

That’s not the case in other countries, like the U.S., for instance — where there’s a strong feeling in many leagues that wheelchair basketball should be for athletes with disabilities only.

But Sampson says here in Canada, we can’t afford to take that position, because there are often not enough disabled players coming forward to play, especially in smaller communities.

There are however some para-sports that only disabled athletes can take part in but require an able-bodied athlete to help guide them. One such sport is blind skiing. The article talks about how sometimes it gets hard for a disabled athlete to find that able-bodied athlete to be their guide.

17-year-old Brenda MacDonald is legally blind, and competed at last year’s Canada Games. She’s hoping to make the Paralympics in 2022.

But without a sighted guide to ski ahead of her and call directions, MacDonald says it can’t happen.

She’s been through four different people over the past four years. Typically, they’re athletes who have recently retired from elite sport themselves.

As you can see, with the contribution and support from able-bodied athletes, more and more disabled athletes can have a chance to represent their country at the highest level in paralympics. For that to happen, para-sports such as blind skiing need more exposure and more able-bodied athletes need to take the initiative to help. When this starts to happen, athletes like Brenda MacDonald would not have such as hard time finding the right partner and she can compete to the best of her abilities.

There are however some bad perceptions able-bodied people have about competing in para-sports. People think that if you are able-bodied, it is not right for you to compete in para-sports and you should stick to more mainstream sports. The article talks about one such instance where one kid, despite loving wheelchair basketball, was not allowed to play that sport due to his father refusing.  

“There was this one kid, he was 15 years old, he came out to one of my practices. He loved it,” he said.

“He got in the chair, he loved it like I do. But his dad, he was a hockey dad. And there was no way his son was going to play in a wheelchair.”

As you can see, these types of perceptions need to be broken which can lead to more collaboration between disabled and able-bodied athletes.

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