Getting involved in sport is one of the most exciting and rewarding things it is possible to do with your leisure time and, if you have recently become a wheelchair user, you may be surprised by just how many competitive activities you will be able to take part in.
Below, we will talk about five of the most popular and accessible wheelchair-friendly sports out there. Rest assured that you will find mastering any specialist equipment you’ll need to purchase just as simple as using one of our portable disability scooters, so the only thing that could hold you back is yourself!
Although it may not be among the most popular spectator or participant mainstream sports in the UK, the wheelchair version of hockey is fast becoming one of the more widely-played of all disability pursuits. The reason for this is simple: there are so many ways in which hockey can be made adaptive that it is easy for almost anyone, regardless of how limited their mobility may be, to get involved.
There are various measures in place that ensure adaptive hockey is straightforward for wheelchair users to play, including lowered goals, a synthetic ball that will not be damaged if it is run over by a wheelchair, and specially constructed pitches that include boundaries designed to stop the ball from going out of play.
The most important inclusive aspect of wheelchair hockey, however, is the stick that is used to play it with. Depending on the nature of the player’s disability, they can choose to use either a ‘manual’ stick (which only differs from a conventional hockey stick in that it is lighter) or a ‘T-stick’, which can be attached directly to the wheelchair, allowing even powerchair users who do not have dexterity in their hands to compete at a high level.
Following the amazing recent successes of the Team GB cycling and paracycling teams at the Olympic Games and other major sporting events, getting out and about on bikes – whether for exercise or in a competitive setting – has become much more popular among the general public of late. Whether you wish to start taking part in races or just want to enjoy exploring the countryside with more speed than would be possible in a standard wheelchair, buying a handbike is an essential first step.
If you are seriously interested in getting involved in competitive paracycling, you will need to purchase a manual handbike that is specifically designed for getting up to high speeds. Depending on the quality and specifications of your chosen model, this may represent a relatively hefty investment, but – if you use it regularly – the bike will certainly start paying dividends in terms of improving your fitness and helping you to achieve that invaluable feeling of true self-achievement.
If, however, you would rather find something that is more suited to recreational cycling, your best option would be to buy a handbike that can be fitted onto your existing wheelchair. As well as usually costing less than their sportier equivalents, these supplementary handbikes can offer either a totally relaxing or physically demanding riding experience, with both manually-powered and fully electric models available.
Despite great strides being made in recent years to improve the standing of and opportunities for disabled people in society, many misconceptions about wheelchair users still, sadly, remain prevalent. Perhaps one of the most inaccurate assumptions people make about anyone with limited mobility is that those who rely on adaptive equipment are fragile, delicate souls who have no desire to take risks or display any kind of aggression; if you have ever seen a game of wheelchair rugby, however, you will know this is very far from the truth!
With the intriguing (and somewhat ominous) nickname of ‘murderball’, wheelchair rugby is not for the fainthearted. If you crave the thrill of a serious contact sport, however, it may well be perfect for you. Wheelchairs are permitted to crash into each other during adaptive rugby games, although the players themselves should not become entangled.
Although the aim of wheelchair rugby is the same as its traditional namesake, new players may at first be slightly overwhelmed by how many differences there are between the two modes, including the use of a rounder ball, time limits on possession, and the matches being played on basketball courts! Nevertheless, you will quickly become well-versed on the rules for adaptive rugby after just a few sessions of play or practice.
The sport of fencing can trace its origins back thousands of years, if you consider that it is based on the ancient practice of sword fighting. Wheelchair fencing, by comparison, is relatively modern – having first been tried by British soldiers who were injured in World War II and wanted to take up an activity during their recuperation – but has now become one of the most fiercely competitive of all adaptive sports.
Probably the most intriguing aspect of wheelchair fencing is that the fencer’s chairs are always anchored to the floor before the dual begins. Although this measure may sound like it is restricting the movements of the competitors, the very opposite is true; with the wheelchair not being able to move about, the fencers are given much greater mobility and dexterity in their hands and arms, where it really matters.
Virtually anyone who wants to take up wheelchair fencing will be able to, regardless of the extent of their disability, as various categories exist to cater for all types of physical ability and ensure that all competitors are on a level playing field.
Last but certainly not least on our list is wheelchair basketball, which is quite possibly the most popular participation adaptive sport in the world. As well as its exciting, fast nature, one feature that contributes significantly to this activity’s strong current state is how easy it is to stage and get involved in.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, the rules of wheelchair basketball differ only slightly from those of its ‘standard’ counterpart, with even the playing conditions being virtually the same for both. The fact that the dimensions of the court, the duration of the matches and even the height of the baskets are identical arguably make wheelchair basketball the most difficult form of the sport; successful players need to demonstrate exceptional skill and stamina to master this extremely challenging game.
The good news is, however, that adaptive basketball enjoys such a strong following that, if you are a wheelchair user, you will virtually always be able to find a local group that you can get involved with if you want to give it a go.