by Vicky Goosey-Tolfrey, Editor
Each year thousands of men and women become disabled due to an accident or illness and thereafter use a wheelchair for locomotion. The statistics tell us that there are approximately 1 to 2 million wheelchair users in the United States and approximately 1 to 2 million wheelchair users in Europe. This means that approximately 1 in every 200 people in the United States and Europe are in wheelchairs.
In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttman, a neurologist who was working with World War II veterans with spinal injuries at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury, in the United Kingdom, began using sport as part of the rehabilitation programmes for his patients. Since that time, participation in wheelchair sport has grown beyond a method to improve wheelchair users’ physical capacity. Wheelchair sport can increase confidence and self-esteem, and it may provide people with a positive outlook on life. There is a wheelchair sport for almost everyone who wants to participate and for any level of expertise, from novice through to Paralympic competition.
High-performance athletes are high performance whether they have a disability or not. However, the journey to this level of sporting excellence is dramatically different for wheelchair sport. Wheelchair athletes need sporting opportunities that nurture, recruit, and develop them through to the national level. They need access to sporting facilities and the community, as well as effective disability sport organizations. Access and support are just some of the challenges that wheelchair athletes and nondisabled athletes do not share.
Although the unique challenges of wheelchair sport participation can present obstacles, there are more opportunities than ever before to compete at any level. Advances in wheelchairs, understanding of the classification system, training methods, pushing techniques, and psychological aspects of wheelchair sport should help people with disabilities to achieve their sporting dreams. At the highest level, wheelchair sports have a dominating presence at the Paralympic Games, and while the science, engineering, and sporting classification systems evolve we rely on evidence practice through scientific communities to keep up. Wheelchair Sport bridges the gap between sporting excellence to wheelchair sport at a grassroots level. Wheelchair Sport is an educational resource for coaches, physical trainers, sport scientists, rehabilitation practitioners, wheelchair users, and all those with an interest in the field of wheelchair sport.
The development and implementation of safe and effective exercise and technical training programmes for wheelchair athletes may be based on theory for nondisabled athletes. After appreciating the many differences between nondisabled and wheelchair athletes, the book highlights the practical application of conventional strength and conditioning principles, nutritional considerations, and aspects of travel in relation to the needs of athletes who use a wheelchair for sport or for daily locomotion. Many questions may be asked by coaches, athletes, and practitioners, such as, “Do I need to adapt my coaching techniques to suit athletes with disabilities?”, “How should I set up my sport wheelchair?”, and “What are the energy requirements of the wheelchair athlete?” There are obviously going to be differences to the conventional theories regarding nondisabled athletes; however, even among wheelchair users there is likely to be a wide range of answers to these questions based on whether the athlete has a spinal cord injury, at what point the injury is sited, when the onset of the disability occurred, whether it is complete or incomplete, and whether the athlete uses a wheelchair for a different reason.
In order to answer some of these questions, Wheelchair Sport is divided into two parts. The contributors of part I have all made significant contributions to sport science education through involvement with national sporting governing bodies and national Paralympic associations. The structure of this text provides a balance between a general overview of and details about classification; psychological, mechanical, biomechanical, and physiological factors; strength and conditioning; nutrition and body composition; and the travel concerns that may be experienced when participating in wheelchair sport.
The first chapter introduces the sports that form the basis of this text and familiarizes the reader towards classification. This is followed by a chapter that describes the importance of wheelchair selection and propulsion technique. The third chapter demonstrates the importance of understanding the physiological differences between nondisabled and wheelchair athletes and the physiological adaptations that result from training. As a natural progression from this, chapter 4 introduces the concepts of strength and conditioning for wheelchair sport. Optimum nutritional strategies for health, training, and competition are discussed in chapter 5, along with assessment of body composition. Chapter 6 provides some practical advice to the wheelchair athlete who is travelling and competing abroad. Finally, chapter 7 describes principles and considerations that should be incorporated into the practice of those working with wheelchair athletes.
Part II is made up of sport-specific chapters and covers the five main sports (wheelchair basketball, racing, rugby, tennis, and handcycling). Although their experience lies in a number of wheelchair sports, the contributors of this section are united by their passion towards each sport, a respect of other coaches and athletes, and a desire to further the status that wheelchair sport deserves. All the contributors in this section have personally coached or been involved themselves as either an athlete or part of the support team at a very high level (including the Paralympics). These chapters provide a brief background of the sport, tactical advice in the form of drills, and playing and racing strategies. There is a truly international flavour to this section, with contributions from Belgium, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The authors contributing to this book include coaches, applied sport scientists, and specialists in sports medicine and physical therapy working within Paralympic sport, as well as four high-performance wheelchair athletes whose stories can only have enhanced wheelchair sporting knowledge. It was a pleasure to incorporate these brief insights of life as a Paralympian by Mike Frogley; the Baroness Grey-Thompson; Peter Norfolk, OBE; and Randy Snow. This text is designed to help readers gain the necessary knowledge to enhance performance while at the same time allowing people with disabilities to realize what it may take to achieve their sporting dreams at any level.