Paralympic Athletics

The idea of practicing sports in a wheelchair first occurred in England during the Second World War as a means of contributing to the physical and psychological rehabilitation of the many people wounded during the war.

The Paralympics were launched in 1948 when Sir Ludwig Guttman organized the International Wheelchair Games to coincide with the Olympic Games taking place in London. The name derives from the Greek "para" ("beside" or "alongside") and thus refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games. There is no relation with paralysis or paraplegia intended, however, the word Paralympic was originally a portmanteau combining 'paraplegic' and 'Olympic'.

The event gradually grew to include other sports and categories of disability. Today, the winter and summer Paralympic Games are the largest international competition for athletes with a disability.

The Games accompany the Olympic celebrations held every two years, and to participate, athletes must meet very high standards. For an idea of the astounding growth of paralympic sports, consider that in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, 400 athletes competed, whereas 4,000 competitors from 130 countries will gather in Beijing.

In Canada, it was Manitoba that hosted the first wheelchair competition in 1947. Our country has sent a delegation to the Paralympic Games every year since 1968.

Racing is one of the oldest wheelchair sports, with the distances the same as in regular track and field events, i.e. from 100m to 10,000m, including the 4 X 100m and 4 X 400m relays. Long distance events range from 5km to the 42.2km marathon. As well there are the field events.

Since 1984, two wheelchair race events have been included as demonstration sports at the Olympic Games, the women’s 800m and the men’s 1,500m. However, the events have been removed from the schedule since Beijing 2008.

Source: Canadian Paralympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee.

Equipment

Most people do not have the opportunity to see racing wheelchairs up close, now here is your chance.

The frame of my racing chair costs about $4000 Why so much? Because I believe equipment can play a huge difference between a podium finish and the dreaded "thanks for coming out". Then I add three carbon wheels (2 wheels in the back and one in the front) that are worth over $3000.

Photo Courtesy of Kurt Knock

There are a lot of details that go into building racing wheelchairs. The slope of my wheels, the length and width of the frame and seat are adjusted just right for me.

The chair is custom built of aluminum and weighs about 17.4 pounds with the wheels on.

I use tubular tires that have 180 pounds of pressure inflated into them. To maintain my chair, my friends at Arrowsmith Bikes in Parksville and Nanaimo take excellent care of me.

There are push rings on the wheels that I use to move the chair forward. With fast hands, strength and endurance I can get to the finish line in good time (hopefully faster than my opponents!)

My race gloves protect my hands as well as provide grip so I can push efficiently. They are custom built by yours truly (with some help from fellow racers like Al Bergman and Clayton Gerein).

For steering I use the compensator which can be preset to the angle for whichever lane I have been assigned to race in. If I hit the right side I will go straight; left side and my chair will turn to the preset angle.