We got a pretty cool press release this week from the Richmond Kickers. They are continuing a program begun two seasons ago with Sportable, a Richmond based organization that provides sports and recreational programs for people with physical disabilities. They are sponsoring a Power Wheelchair Soccer Team that will be coached by Richmond Kicker Midfielder Mike Callahan.
Running? No. Jumping? No. Powered wheelchairs? Yes. Sport? ABSOLUTELY!
Sportable started in 2005 and offers soccer, swimming, tennis, kayaking, and more to wanting athletes who have to overcome barriers in ability, equipment, or venue to participate in active and competitive sports. The key word there, though, is sport.
You may remember seeing trailers a few years ago about a documentary called “Murderball.” While it sounds like a horror movie it was actually the hard-hitting and inspiring story of the U.S. Quad Rugby team. This was a group of young men, all dealing with spinal injuries and related disabilities, who strapped themselves into the meanest looking wheelchairs that you’ve ever seen and competed in the most highly charged and hardest hitting game of “rugby” that you’ve ever seen. We winced watching some of the hits and decided that Quad Rugby would never be on our bucket list. We did, however, decide that they were one of the most driven, passionate, competitive, and playful teams that we’d ever seen. A “Dream Team” without the egos but better looking wheels.
There was a big flap in 2007 about a guy named Oscar Pistorius. He had competed quite well in some international games, placing 2nd in the 2007 Rome Golden Gala in the men’s 400-meter race. He ran well in Britain and had his sights set on the 2008 Olympics. There was one problem. Oscar had no legs. Pistorius had both of his legs amputated just below the knees when he was 11 months old because of a congenital birth defect. He was one of the first people to get outfitted with those carbon fiber blades called “The Cheetah”. Many argued that the spring that this afforded him gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes. One thing is for sure: he is the Fastest Man With No Legs.
There are venues for athletes with disabilities. We think of them as disabled but they are often at the top of their sports. The Paralympic Games started in 1948 with Ludwig Guttmann, a doctor who fled Germany in 1939 and started the British Sports Association for the Disabled. It was an opportunity for soldiers injured in war to once again become active in the sports that they loved.
In 1960 Rome hosted the first organized international games for these athletes, and they have always taken place in the same years as The Olympics. In 1988 the International Olympic Committee decreed that the Paralympics would be held by the same host cities, in the same venues as the other Olympics. Athletes at the Paralympics compete in gymnastics, judo, boxing, rugby, equestrian events, hockey, skating, you name it. If you can watch it every 4 years on NBC they’ve got it.
The real point is this: These young men and women are athletes. They participate in sport. They may crash into each other pell-mell from a wheelchair. They may hurdle with a carbon fiber foot. They may pedal with a recumbent or a hand cycle on a 100-mile jaunt.
These are athletes. And this is sport. Play Ball.