by Jessica Rogers
I really like sports. You might not know that there are a lot of sports opportunities for people with disabilities, including SA/CRS. So far, the sports I’ve tried include ice hockey, water skiing, basketball, football, floor hockey, hand cycling, swimming, track, and field. I also once put roller skates on my hands and sailed down our steep driveway. What a rush! But I’m not allowed to do that anymore; and at 14, I’m not quite that fearless anymore.
There are a lot of good reasons to get your child involved in sports. First of all, it is an opportunity to do some of the things lots of other kids do. Lots of kids are on teams or get involved with sports, and they learn about setting goals and working toward those goals, teamwork, and being a gracious loser and winner. So, why not me too? Secondly, it is good for building the kinds of muscles that are needed for pushing a wheelchair, climbing up onto a cabinet or chair, and being more independent. Thirdly, it is good for your health. I have had very few health problems and I think the reason is because I am so active and fit. Fourth, it is an opportunity to set goals and excel in an area. I have had a lot of success with track and basketball, and swimming . Of course, not all children are athletic. Some may be more prone to musical pursuits or art or even video games, so you have to encourage each child’s unique interest. But, kids with SA/CRS, and especially adults, tend to put weight on around the middle. Our rib cages expand to make room for all of the things our growing bodies have. Keeping active in some way, even if it is just riding a handcycle around the block, is just common sense to be in good condition.
For most kids with SA/CRS, even if they are kids who walk, wheelchair sports will be the best option. Depending on where you live, you may be able to access sports opportunities through your local recreation center, or rehabilitation hospital, or Blaze Sports Organization. A good place to start is by doing a google search of disabled sports. Some national websites are listed below. Once you find a resource, there is often equipment available for certain sports. When a child is very young, the use of their everyday wheelchair is fine for most sports. However, if your child wants to be competitive, he or she will need a different type of wheelchair for each sport. Swimming, of course, requires no special equipment. The only thing you need to know is, don’t put a life vest on your child. It will cause him or her to turn over upside down, head under water, because usually the legs are too small to have the weight to hold them upright. Local disability sports organizations usually have loaner or outgrown equipment that has been passed down as the children on the team outgrow equipment.
Even if there is not a local resource, you can still enroll your child in a swimming class, at the local pool, or get a hand pedaled tricycle. There are some grants for special equipment from organizations such as Variety Children’s Charities, Rotary Club, AmVets, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and IM ABLE Foundation.
I have really enjoyed competing in sports. There are regional competitions and national competitions through an the organizations Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA and Disabled Sports USA. Every year, there is a competition called the National Junior Disability Championship. Also, wheelchair basketball teams play in games and tournaments at local, state, regional and national levels. At these competitions I meet other kids with various disabilities such as spina bifida, polio, and even some who have the same condition that I do. We can compare notes on the coolest wheelchair, or just make connections and form friendships. I think if it were not for sports, I would never have had that opportunity to meet others like myself. I hope to continue training and make it to the Paralympics some day.
Sports is one of the many things your child with SA/CRS can do. It has many benefits for social and health reasons and it is a good way for parents to connect with other parents who have children with disabilities. I hope after reading information about my sports activities, you will spend more time with your child at the gym than in the hospital. I started swimming when I was 3, so don’t delay in exposing your child to sports opportunities.