Discovering Wheelchair Sports

Over the summer, my family and I tuned in to the Olympics. Experiencing the highs, lows and suspenseful competition was extremely enjoyable. During the many commercials, I saw announcements for the Paralympics currently in progress. As a new person to this community, I was intrigued. I’ve known about the Paralympic games forever but like many, I only caught brief competitions in between my day-to-day activities. I really became interested in events that use a wheelchair. I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of events featured.

I found a short list of sports that use wheelchairs, including: wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, boccia (still trying to figure out), para cycling (using a modified chair), wheelchair tennis and wheelchair fencing.

There are quite a few other sports that have both able-bodied athletes and athletes that use wheelchairs. A few of my favorites are table tennis, shooting, badminton and archery. There are a vast number of talented people with many different disabilities like blindness, developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and amputees that participate on an epic level. I am excited and truly motivated to try out a few athletic activities for self-enrichment.

All the para sports I researched sound interesting and fun, but I like to do things that are a bit more extreme. I love heights, so after some Googling, I came across Paragliding! This sport involves a wheelchair, a glider and me screaming in unrestrained joy as I take to the skies using the wind as my engine.

In 1922, a man named Jocky Sanderson developed the first Paragliding buggy that allowed wheelchair users to ride as a passenger in tandem flight with an able-bodied pilot. This was huge with the only drawback being that the wheelchair user could not safely pilot the glider alone or even land one.

Then, in 1996, John Crosbie visited the Chevron Wheelchair Factory with a new front-end design that basically added a modular third wheel to the front of a wheelchair making an ordinary wheelchair into an off-road chair. While visiting, Mr. Crosbie saw a rear end suspension system in development by another gentleman named Vinnie Ross. Then EUREKA! Mr. Crosbie had the idea that combining these wheelchair technologies could be the key for me (and every other disabled person) to become parasailing pilots of their own destiny.

In short, people who use wheelchairs can now independently pilot and land a parasail. There are literally dozens of places to go Paragliding in Arizona. I think I will start with the tandem version to get a feel for it first.

I came across footage of an extreme wheelchair athlete and godfather of the extreme sport Aaron Wheelz Fotherinham. This guy is a daredevil of the highest order whose death defying tricks, flips and high speeds are awesome to watch but a little too extreme for me. He performs with a troupe called the Nitro Circus. They tour all over the world and I am excited to take the kids to see what motivated people who are differently abled can do in awesome circumstances.

My husband and I are working on the logistics of a family outing in October when the circus will be in Mesa, Arizona, not far from where we live. I have always loved extreme sports because of the adrenaline spike and non-mainstream vibes. I’ve done outings with the girls to the roller derby and made infrequent trips to watch the demolition derbies in two of the three states I previously lived in. Now, I am discovering a whole new realm of extreme sports.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I found that there is actually power wheelchair racing! Some of the power chairs I saw in my research can hit speeds upwards of 90 miles an hour! I am an avid car enthusiast, so this is an amazing discovery for me. I wonder if my husband will buy me a racing helmet to match my racing chair.

Before I pick my wheelchair assisted extreme sport, it’s nice to know that I have quite a few options. Maybe I can use some creative thinking and brainstorming with a few friends and come up with the next extreme wheelchair sport!

About Merlisha Henderson: Merlisha uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair for mobility and lives in Arizona with her family. As a wife, mother and disability advocate in her community, she stays active and independent, working toward bringing equality and access to all. Click here to learn more about Merlisha.