Adaptive Sports – Role Models

Madison De Razario, paralympic wheelchair racer with the barbie doll made of her in a racing chair

As a part of my fourth year occupational therapy project placement at Eazilee, I completed a research project looking predominately at the influence that adaptive sports role models have on people with disabilities and adaptive sport engagement. 

Throughout this project I discovered minimal research evidence exploring adaptive sports influencers. However, through identifying a number of adaptive athletes and seeing the work they are doing to advocate and educate, it is clear to me that adaptive sports role models are having a positive impact on people with disabilities, encouraging sport engagement as well as more broadly helping to combat traditional views of disability, diversity and excellence.

Vanessa Low at the Rio Paralympics

Adaptive Sports

So what are adaptive sports?

Adaptive sport refers to the modification of a given sport to accommodate for the varying ability levels of an individual with a disability. A key feature of adaptive sports is the provision of assistive technology to facilitate independent participation.

Research suggests that participation in adaptive sports and recreation is found to have a positive effect on overall health, quality of life and social wellbeing. Participation in adaptive sports also combats traditional views of disability, challenges negative attitudes and provides a sense of freedom and success.

The Australian Wheelchair Rugby Team

Assistive Technology Used by Adaptive Athletes

The most common assistive technology used to enable participation in elite and recreational sports include:
  • Manual wheelchairs: Used in sports such as tennis, rugby and basketball. Frames, seats and wheels are customised to the individual which can enhance performance and cater to the individuals body type and physical needs
  • Prosthetics: Come in a variety of designs to suit the athletic purpose. Lower limb prosthetics can be used for ambulation in running, jumping and climbing sports and act to mimic the spring like movement of the human ankle complex. Upper limb prosthetics can be used to participate in sports such as golf, fishing and sailing.
  • Non-wheeled seated technology: Can be used to offer stability to athletes needing a stable base for throwing sports such as shotput, discuss and javelin.

Role Models

Dylan Alcott - Wheelchair Basketball & Tennis

Dylan is an Australian wheelchair tennis and basketball athlete. Dylan had a tumor on his spinal cord at birth which had to be removed leading to paraplegia. Dylan has been incredibly resilient and to date has achieved the following and more:

  • Paralympic gold & silver medalist in both wheelchair basketball and tennis 
  • At age 17 became the youngest Australian “Rollers” basketball player
  • At age 18 received a medal of The Order of Australia
  • 2016 GQ Sportsman of the year & Paralympian of the year 
  • 9 x tennis Grand Slam Champion
  • Motivational speaker, radio host and author of the book “Able” 
  • Podcast host of “listenABLE” – aiming to change perceptions of what it’s like living with a disability https://www.podcastoneaustralia.com.au/podcasts/listenable
  • Founder of the Dylan Alcott Foundation: helping people with disabilities to fulfil their potential. In 2019 the foundation funded the first “Ability Fest” – universally accessible music festival in Melbourne  https://dylanalcottfoundation.com.au/ability-fest/
  • Founder of ”Get skilled access” – Works alongside organisations to create accessible and inclusive workplaces https://getskilledaccess.com.au/our-services/
  • Get skilled access has also recently started the Sports4All program which provides schools and sporting clubs with the tools and training to create inclusive sporting environments and opportunities https://getskilledaccess.com.au/making-australia-a-sporting-nation-for-all-abilities-sport-4-all/
  • Is currently about to launch “Able Foods” – A company lead by people with disabilities with the aim to provide healthy, ready made meals to help people with disabilities live healthier and happier lives https://ablefoods.com.au/

Dylan is a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. He does some really impactful work to change global perceptions of disability, advocate for people with disabilities and provide inclusive opportunities both in the sporting community and more broadly. 

Madison de Rozario - Wheelchair Racing

Madison is an Australian wheelchair racing athlete. Madison acquired a spinal cord injury at age four due to a neurological condition called Transverse Myelitis. Madison has since gone on to see some incredible sporting achievements as well as mentor and encourage younger athletes. Some of her achievements include: 

Madison does some great work in encouraging and mentoring young people with disabilities to engage in wheelchair sports and is a great role model for many young athletes.

Beatrice (Bebe) Vio - Fencing

Bebe is an Italian fencing athlete. At age 11 Bebe was affected my severe meningitis leading to an infection and the amputation of both legs from the knee down and both arms from the forearms. After three months of intense rehabilitation she returned to fencing with the use of a custom wheelchair and a hook system in her forearm to which she fits a prosthesis and then the fencing sword. Since then has achieved the following and more:

  • Competed at the paralympics as the first fencer without arms worldwide and won gold and bronze at the 2016 Rio paralympic games for the individual and team event (Gold medal moment seen in the video above)
  • Bebe will compete in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Parlympic games
  • Was the torch bearer at the London 2012 Olympics
  • 2014 Italian Paralympic athlete of the year
  • Has won four European Championship gold medals, three World Championship gold medals 
  • 2017 Laureus world sports awards – Sports person of the year with a disability at age 19
  • Author of “If it seems impossible then it can be done” & “They gave me a dream” 
  • Motivational speaker and campaigner for early vaccination 
  • Co-founder of Art4Sport – a non-profit organisation that uses sport as therapy for young people recovering from limb amputation and adapting to the use of prosthetics https://www.art4sport.org/
  • Featured in the 2020 Netflix documentary – Rising Phoenix. This documentary is incredibly moving and features a number of elite athletes who reflect on the Paralympic games https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyjOEFEO3I8
Bebe does a lot to change global perceptions of disability, encourage sport participation and has a particular drive to ensure the Paralympic games are more recognised. I was incredibly moved by the Netflix documentary “Rising Phoenix” which Bebe featured in. This documentary does an incredible job at giving viewers an insight into the lives of a number of incredibly talented para-athletes, which as a health professional I found helped shift my clinical view of disability to one that is more person centred.  

Ryley Batt - Wheelchair Rugby

Ryley is an Austrlian wheelchair rugby athlete. Ryley was born without legs and with webbed fingers which he had surgery to seperate. Up until the age of 12, Ryley refused to use a wheelchair and instead mobilised using a skateboard. After seeing a demonstration of wheelchair rugby at his school, he started using a wheelchair and got into playing wheelchair rugby shortly after. Since then he has achieved some incredible things including:

  • Competed at the 2004 Paralympic games with the Australian Steelers wheelchair basketball team where he was the youngest Paralympic rugby player at age 15
  • Achieved silver at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, and gold at both the 2012 London Games and 2016 Rio Games
  • Achieved two silver and one gold medal across three World Championships
  • Finalist in the 2012 Australian Paralympian of the year
  • Order of Australian Medal 2014
  • Three awards at the New South Whales Institute of Sport Awards 
  • Featured in the 2020 Netflix Documentary “Rising Phoenix”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bnTmIpHlsI
  • Co-captain for the upcoming Paralympics in Tokyo
Ryley is an incredible athlete, advocate and role model for people with disabilities. I highly recommend watching the Netflix documentary to get a better insight into the life of Ryley Batt and his path to the Paralympics.

Vanessa Low - Athletics

Vanessa is a German-born Australian Paralympic athlete in sprinting and long jump. At age 15 Vanessa lost balance on a railway platform, being struck by a train severing her left leg. Doctors were forced to amputate her right leg during life saving surgery. She was in a coma for two month and after that took two years to relearn to walk with her prosthetic legs. Since then she has returned to sport and achieved some incredible things including:

  • Has received ten World Championship medals across both long-jump and the 100m sprint
  • Received the gold medal in long-jump and silver medal in the 100m sprint at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games
  • 2015 broke the long-jump world record by 19cm!
  • 2019 Athletics Australia Female para-athlete of the year 
  • National Rail Safety Ambassador 

Vanessa speaks a lot in the media about the challenges she has overcome, promotes road safety and displays the fashionable prosthetic covers she uses as seen in the images above (one being her wedding photo where both her and her partner are wearing them). Vanessa is a talented athlete and role model who has demonstrated great resilience to get to where she is today.

 

Reflection

As an able-bodied athlete myself and soon to be health professional, I found this research thoroughly enjoyable, impactful and informative. Gaining a better insight into adaptive sports, the assistive technology available, the benefits of adaptive sports and the impact that sports role models can have on global perceptions of disability, has undoubtedly lead to me being more informed and better equiped to assist people to engage in adaptive sports as an occupational therapist. 

This research has helped me to see disability through an entirely new “lens” and has shifted my views from what I now understand to be a more clinical view of disability, to one that is more person-centred. I have gained a further passion for empowering people to reach their highest potential, whether that be in sports or other meaningful activities. I hope the role models and education presented in this blog have impacted readers in one way or another and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for assistive technology and adaptive sports. 

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