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Sport

Jingle all the Way to Gold

As the  curtain raises on the Tokyo Olympics and some of the worlds best athletes vie for precious gold its hard to contain the excitement.  If your home is anything like ours, cheering, swearing and anthems bursting with national pride can be heard echoing from the living room  as we celebrate the blood, sweat and tears these incredible folk lay on the line in the spirit of competition. 

Although it doesn’t get much better than seeing an Aussie on the podium, the thing I love most is the moments of comradery, when people are just people regardless of where they are from or what they look like,  a hand up on the basketball court, a hug on the pool deck between the fiercest of rivals, cheering on the underdog. That’s what makes the Olympics great and I just can’t get enough.

But although I am on the edge of my seat and cheering with the masses I cant help but look ahead to the 24th August when around 4,500 athletes from 160 countries go head to head for a chance at Paralympic Gold.  So this week whilst watching our elite Olympians beat the odds to reach faster, higher, stronger I have found myself thinking  ‘lets see you do it with your eyes closed’.

There is often negative conversation surrounding the use of the word inspiration when it comes to disability. But the grit, determination and hard work shown by all our athletes is as inspiring as it gets and it has nothing to do with disability.  The Paralympics celebrate elite sport at its finest and a shared resounding voice that says anything is possible and any dream achievable.

Brodie Smith - Australian Goal Ball Player. Picture by PERRY DUFFIN Courtesy of maitlandmercury.com.au

As you watch this years Paralympics you might notice a sleek flash of silver or hear the jiggle of a bell as some of the worlds most advanced Assistive Technology seamlessly blends into the background, enabling a whole new level of competition. From the slickest of running blades to the lightest carbon fibre chairs at Eazilee we celebrate the role AT has in elite (and grassroots) sport and the incredible makers behind these innovative products. When it comes to AT mostly its the flashy stuff that gets all the attention… because I mean a balls a ball right? Except when it isn’t. 

For competitors in the Paralympic sports of Boccia, Football and Goal Ball the design and unique sound of the ball takes on another level of importance. Bells inside the goal ball and football help to orientate the players by indicating the direction of the oncoming ball. Therefore while play is in progress, complete silence is required in the venue to allow the players to concentrate and react instantly to the ball. 

I was honored to connect with Kirsten Bromann the Co Founder of Handi Life Sport  (supplier of the Official Blind Olympic Football) to learn what’s so special about all of those balls and where it all began. 

 

Kirsten and Jens Bromann

What inspired you to start Handi Life Sport?

Handi Life Sport was founded back in 1987, when my husband and I were young. My husband Jens, who is a lawyer, was at that time working for the ministry of Social Affairs, but in his free time he was totally dedicated to disability sport on an international organizational level.

He, being blind since the age of 10, had been a goalball player playing on the Danish National Team, and he had benefited tremendously from his sport activities. So, he thought that sport was the way for people with disabilities to be recognized in society, gain confidence and independence.

Back in 1987 we knew that Danish locomotor disabled had started playing “Boccia” with balls they had made by a local shoemaker. They just loved this sport, but the balls were uneven, fragile and expensive. Furthermore, this sport was gaining popularity in several other countries, like UK, Holland and even Japan, but everyone was playing with rather bad balls, manufactured locally. So we thought: why not try to make professional boccia balls, to encourage this new sport, and why not make a company that develops and manufactures sport equipment for disability sport in general? Since then we have been manufacturing a range of sound balls to enable vision impaired athletes to participate in a range of sports.

Jens shares his amazing story in the video below.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced designing your products and getting them ready to share with the world?

At the beginning we were not sufficiently aware of the importance of keeping the costs down, primarily because we knew nothing about how to manufacture goods. We made an innovative indoor/outdoor croquet game back in 1991, and was awarded with an international design for it – but it was much too expensive, and possible the design was also too “different” from what people were used to. So, we have learned to put functionally and affordability first.

We had to learn not to believe too much in what other “experts” say, but to trust in our own “gut feelings”, and to go on with your own research. We had to learn not always to take no for an answer but to go on, also after failures and things that went wrong. To get “Back in the saddle!” was something I had to learn.

Finding the right people to work with is sometimes a challenge, but it becomes a lot easier with time & experience, and today we have a fantastic network all over the world. Among our resellers around the world are the most amazing people, and some of them have become our personal friends.

You can see the Sound Football in action at the Rio games below.

What did seeing your products on a major stage like the Paralympics feel like for the first time and who will you be cheering for these games?

Actually, I got a bit scared when I saw our Blind Footballs in play! What if the balls breaks or is in other ways make a scandal?

After a while it was fun to watch our equipment in play, and of course it is great if somebody wins a boccia match with our Boccia Balls. I will cheer – of course – on the Danish participants, but except for them I will actually cheer on all athletes, who should be proud and happy that due to their hard work they made it to the Paralympics and that, through their exceptional performances they pave the way for a new, less narrow-minded, less prejudiced and more open view on having disabilities.

In the long run it is not an “either/or” to have or not have a disability. Most people will experience a disability (mental of physical) at some stage in their life, and the hardest thing about that often is – I believe – other people’s lack of understanding, acceptance and respect. Also in our Scandinavian welfare societies! People with disabilities may have good economic living conditions, but sadly enough they are often excluded from work life and often they cannot even take the bus, because of lack of accessibility. At least that’s how it is in Denmark

Technology is constantly evolving. Are there any new technologies that might influence your future designs?

Certainly! We have developed a rechargeable electronic sound device, to use in audible balls and in Blind Sport in general, and in the coming year we are going to implement this device into different kinds of equipment.

So this Paralympics spare a thought for every ball that jingles, every pair of glasses, tether, blade, chair, prosthetic and piece of AT not matter how big or small and the incredibly talented maker behind them enabling our paralympians to share their ‘spirit in motion’. I can’t wait. 

find out more about Handi LIfe Sports amazing sounds balls right here
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Adaptive Surfing: Push the Boundaries

Adaptive Surfing

When I began researching types of adaptive sport, surfing really caught my attention. Adaptive surfing was something I had not come across before. As I dug deeper, I found that people of various abilities adapted their boards and surf style in a range of ways to enjoy the thrill of catching a wave. I was inspired to see people finding a way to participate, whether they have experienced an amputation, congenital condition or even a visual impairment. I came across some truly inspiring content of people utilising an array of assistive equipment and strategies to support their participation in adaptive surfing. Adaptive surfing really made me think outside the square of what is possible in adaptive sport.

Adaptive surfing is becoming an increasingly popular and more recognised sport around the globe. In 2015, the first International Surfing Association’s (ISA) World Adaptive Surfing Championships was hosted in California, USA. Australia was close to follow, developing the nudie Australian Adaptive Surfing Titles at the Australian Surfing Championships, providing opportunities for Australia’s most talented adaptive surfers to be recognised on a national stage. Surfing Australia has provided a resource which outlines the classifications in competitive adaptive surfing. You can view the classifications here.

The classifications outline how people can surf in different ways, such as kneeling, laying or sitting. There is also a classification for people with visual impairment.

With these exciting developments in adaptive surfing, and the recent inclusion of surfing as a recognised olympic sport, only time will tell whether adaptive surfing will be included as a competition in the paralympic games. This video showcases the opportunities provided to adaptive surfers at the Australian Adaptive Surfing Titles. Take note of the different strategies and equipment the participants are using to ride the waves.

Let's Surf!

The beauty of adaptive surfing is that the boards can be modified according to the surfers abilities. I’ve come across some extremely innovative ideas! I’ve been able to discover some board accessories and features that adaptive surfers may use and I want to highlight just some of the ways people are participating; but the possibilities are certainly not limited.

 

Grab Handles

Handles can be installed on a board for people requiring some extra support to stabilise and stay on the board. For example, surfers who have experienced an amputation of an arm may benefit from a handle. Or, a person who has reduced movement in their legs may benefit from a handle to increase their stability when laying on a board. Handles can be placed on a board in varying positions according to the person’s needs. Below are examples of grab handles being used by adaptive surfers.

 

 

Boost Surfing: Electronic Fin

One of the latests advancements in surfing technology is the Boost Surfing Electronic Fin. This electronic fin can be attached to a surfers board. This can be used by people with and without impariments, and could be an option for surfers with physical limitations who may not be able to paddle on their own or may have difficulty paddling continuously. The Boost Surfing fin is  connected to a smartphone application so surfers can adjust the power and duration of the ‘boost’ based on their experience level and needs. It will be interesting to find out if this technology will be useful and widely adopted by adaptive surfers in the future. You can find out more here.

 


Adapted Surfboard Shapes

Boards can also be shaped to suit a surfer’s needs. Pictured below are examples of different ways a board can be shaped to support different abilities. For example, for people with lower limb amputations, ‘grooves’ can be shaped into the surfboard to assist in stabilising as the person kneels to ride a wave.


 

These are just some of the options out there today, but it’s most certainly not limited! The main message that I gained from researching adaptive surfing is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to enabling a person to participate. I think this is a valuable lesson, to be open-minded and to not be afraid to try something new. Innovative assistive equipment and thinking outside the square is making surfing more of an option for people with a disability on a social level.

I found it challenging to identify how to access surfing equipment to facilitate participation in adaptive surfing. Some people may not require extra equipment or a modified board, others may need significant adaptations for them to participate. In this case, finding a board shaper or manufacturer that can accomodate for these adaptations or extra accessories may be challenging and come at a cost. There’s got to be a board shaper who is up for a challenge out there somewhere!

Find Out More

There are many people and organisations spreading conversation and promoting participation in adaptive surfing for all ages and abilites. The Disabled Surfers Association of Australia supports people with an intellectual or physical disablity to spend a day at the beach and catch a wave. There are organisations in each state of Australia and there are also opportunities in New Zealand. See more here.

Surfing Australia provides updates on the latest events happening in surfing nation-wide. There is contact information on their website for surfing in each state of Australia. This may be a good place to start if you would like to find out what opportunities are available or to find like-minded people encouraging adaptive surfing participation.

Also, check out ‘Adaptive Surfers of Australia’ on Facebook!

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Adaptive Sports – What if?

 

Imagine training your whole life to compete in one event and then being told you are not allowed to participate.

This is what happened to Blake Leeper a US athlete who was training for the 2020 US summer games. Leeper is a double amputee athlete who utilises two running prosthetics which are often referred to as running blades. Leeper was told he was not able to compete in the summer games against able bodied athletes due to his running blades providing him with an unfair advantage. 

This is not the first time an adaptive athlete has been told they are not able to compete. Following his success at the 2004 Paralympics Oscar Pistorius was the first adaptive runner to compete against able bodied athletes. However in 2008 the World Athletics implemented rule 144.2 which prohibited the use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element which provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such device. 

Adaptive athletes running on blades in paraolympics

This ruling was based on research which found that running blades could provide an athlete with an advantage, however it has since been proven that the study which produced this research was poorly made and no follow up was completed. Future studies have actually proven this is not the case and that running prostheses do not provide runners with an unfair advantage, when all elements are taken into consideration including metabolic function and running style.

Pistorius fought this ruling and in 2012 became the first adaptive athlete to run in the Olympic games. Blake Leeper is currently fighting to have his ban lifted and to be allowed to complete against able bodied athletes just as Pistorius did.

Double amputee wearing running blades

Would Usain Bolt still be the fastest runner in the world if he used a running blade?

The 100m sprint world record is held by Usain Bolt in a time of 9.58 seconds. In comparison the fastest Paralympic 100m sprint time is held by Jayson Smyth who runs it in a time of 10.36. Jayson runs in the T13 category for track events as he is partially blind. Most Paralympic events have categories in which the competitors race depending on their impairment and the functional disadvantage this places them at in their sport. 

Johnnie Peacock is a sprinter from the United Kingdom who runs in the T44 category. Johnnie has a right leg amputation below the knee. Johnnie’s fastest time for the 100m is 10.75. The differences in these runners times are relatively small when you look at the full picture.  

Imagine if there was an exoskeleton that could be used by Jonnie Peacock! Would he run faster than Usain Bolt? What if Jayson Smyth had full vision maybe he would beat Usain Bolt?

Paralympic athletes can run at the same speed as able bodied athletes with prosthetic running blades using 25% less oxygen due to the prosthetic energy return. Running blades today are made form carbon fibre and return three times as much energy as the human ankle. Current studies have found that these running blades do not provide athletes with an unfair advantage due to other factors such as cardiovascular fitness and the inability of running blades to store energy as the human leg does. Engineers are working everyday to continue to improve running blades and who knows what may be possible in the future as technology continues to advance.

Johnnie Peacock competing at the 2017 World Para Athletics championships 

Speedo LZR full body suit

Swimming has been at the forefront of the assistive technology debate in the past in regards to racing suits and whether or not they provide participants with an advantage. The speedo LZR full body swim suit which was commonly seen at the 2008 Olympic games, made famous by Micheal Phelps was banned in 2010, after FINA the governing body of swimming announced they provided an unfair advantage by cutting down on fatigue and giving swimmers more buoyancy and speed. 

Currently there are prosthetic limbs which can be used in the water however the technology does not allow for diving in or exiting the pool and they may actually slow an elite swimmer down. Bionic limbs for use in the water are also being developed. The difference between prosthetics and bionics is that a person can control a bionic limb just as they would a regular limb using their brain. This is possible through computers and sensors in the bionics which detect the signals from the brain for muscle movement. With the rate that bionic limbs are developing today they may soon be able to outperform regular limbs. 

 

Double leg amputee wearing bionic limbs

 

If Ellie Cole was able to swim with a bionic leg would she be faster than Cate Campbell or Sarah Sjostrom

Sarah Sjostrom is the fastest women’s 50m freestyler in the world, holding the world record time of 23.67. In comparison Cate Campbell is the fastest women’s 50m freestyler on the Australian Olympic team and has a time of 23.78. Her team mate Ellie Cole won silver at the 2016 Paralympic game and swims the 50m freestyle in a time of 29.13 seconds. Ellie swims in the S9 category in Paralympic swimming as she has one leg which is amputated above the knee. 

When Ellie was three years old she had her right leg amputated due to a sarcoma, a life threatening cancer behind her right knee. She began swimming lessons as part of her rehabilitation and fell in love with the sport. Ellie made her first Paralympic games in 2008 at the age of 17 winning a silver and a bronze, and from there has continued her success winning gold at both the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. 

With the advances in technology we are seeing today who knows what could be possible in the future. If there is a bionic limb which could be used in the pool just as a regular limb would this piece of technology be considered an unfair advantage?  Or could we see adaptive swimmers utilising this technology and keeping up with or beating some of the fastest swimmers in the world?

Ellie Cole swimming the 50m freestyle at the 2016 Paralympics 

Dylan Alcott is a well known Australian wheelchair basketball and tennis player, Dylan was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord, which was successfully removed when he was five weeks old, however due to the underdevelopment of his spinal cord Dylan was unable to functionally use his legs and was left a paraplegic. 

From an early age Dylan participated in many sports but his real love was basketball and in 2008 at the age of 17 he got the chance to represent his country at the Paralympics in the Australian wheelchair basketball team. Australia won gold at the 2008 Paralympics and to this day Alcott remains the youngest male wheelchair basketball player to win gold at the Paralympics. 

 

Dylan Alcott Playing basketball at the 2008 Paralympics
Dylan Alcott playing basketball at the 2008 Paralympics

 

After coming in second place at the 2012 Paralympics and taking home the silver medal Alcott shifted his focus from basketball to tennis. 

In 2015 he took home the Australian Open title and in 2016 the gold in the doubles and single events at the Rio Paralympics. Since then he has gone onto win the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Australian Open Wheelchair Tennis championships. Dylan is a huge advocate for people with disabilities promoting the message that “anything is possible” if you set your mind to it and work hard enough. 

One of the greatest able bodied tennis players in the world is Novak Djokovic. He has 17 grand slam titles to his name and has broken numerous records over the course of his career, he has even tried his hand at wheelchair tennis on the occasion.

Dylan Alcott competing in wheelchair tennis at the 2016 Paralympics

Who would win a game of wheelchair tennis, Dylan Alcott or Novak Djokovic? 

When playing tennis in a wheelchair it is essential to keep moving and turning the entire time to ensure that you are able to get to the ball and it takes an expert wheelchair user to be able to do this. Tennis wheelchairs are designed to be light weight and usually made from aluminium or titanium to ensure that they are quick and manoeuvrable. They have steep angled wheels which assist with this manoeuvrability and turning. They also have one smaller wheel at the back and two at the front, these are referred to as castors and they ensure stability making sure the chair does not tip when the player is moving around the court. As you could imagine it takes a lot of practice to get the hang of using this highly specialised chair.  

Djokovic and Alcott competing in wheelchair tennis

Learning about all these adaptive sports and the athletes who train so hard to be at the top of their game has been truly inspirational to me as an Occupational Therapy student. I think the message they leave will inspire people all across the world with all different types of disabilities to try their hand at sports. I believe with the continual development of all these new types of assistive technology and the incredible athletes we see today that the future of adaptive sports is going to be incredible. Who knows what could be possible. 

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Run: Push the Boundaries

Let's Talk Running Prosthetics

Prosthetic advancements have enabled professional and recreational adaptive participants to engage in running. These advancements have allowed professional athletes to gain recognition on a world stage. Running feet come in a variety of designs and configurations. Some feet come complete with a toe and a heel section and others the toe section only, which are commonly known as ‘blades’. 

Blade designs are generally used by individuals for sprinting or distance running, which requires the prosthetic to mimic a ‘running on toes’ action. Running prosthetics are also made in different shapes according to the type of running.

Sprint prosthetics are often made in a ‘j’ shape. The ‘j’ shape exhibits a quick return of energy, like a spring, which supports the athlete to run at higher speeds. Specialised sole pads can be added to the sole of the blade to assist with traction.

Long distance prosthetics are often shaped like a ‘c’ as pictured below. The ‘c’ shape is more effective at storing and releasing energy over time, which supports the athelete to run over longer distance and requires less forceful input to be effective.

 

Ottock and Ossur are two leading prosthetic developers who are paving the way for many exciting advancements for people who have experienced limb loss. These advancements have empowered many athletes to be recognised on a world stage, and are inspiring others to push the boundaries too. They have even developed junior options as well. You can view more of their sports lines on the Ottobock and Ossur websites.

Prosthetics require correct alignment and set up to ensure they are moving correctly. They also require maintenance to prevent injury. Limbs 4 Life supports people who have experienced an amputation. They have information about prosthetic services and where to find them in Australia on their website.

Independence for Visually Impaired Runners

Usain Bolt as Guide Runner for visually impaired athlete

Commonly, runners with a visual impairment rely on a support person to run beside them to navigate. But, what happens when a support person isn’t available? The person simply can’t run. Technology is changing that!

I came across a new item of technology: The Wayband, by Wearworks. The Wayband is a wrist band device, that looks a bit like a watch and can be fastened on the wrist or upper arm. The band operates by using GPS signal which creates a virtual ‘corridor’. If the person goes off track, the band will signal by exhibiting haptic vibrations. If there are no vibrations, this means the person is on the right track. The band is still in pilot stages of testing, launching in April 2021. A blind marathon runner, named Simon Wheatcroft has been testing it out with fantastic results. View his story here.

The beauty about this technology is that it can be used by people requiring navigation for running or for those who are just out for a casual stroll! This is amazing innovation, enabling people with a visual impairment to walk or run with freedom and piece of mind that they’re on the right track.

Find out more about the Wayband on the Wearworks website.

Wayband by Wearworks. Image - Wearworks.
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Adaptive Sports – Role Models

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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Adaptive Skiing: Push the Boundaries

Adaptive Skiing

Imagine the feeling of gliding across the snow after experiencing limitations which reduce your feeling of freedom. Adaptive skiing is described by many as a having a sense of freedom, exhilaration and accomplishment. Participation in adaptive skiing dates back to World War II, when injured troops made their own skis from their crutches to return to their beloved activity. Since then, technology in adaptive skiing has come a long way. It is amazing to see how technology now enables people of all ages, abilitites and skill levels, to ski. I want to showcase the ways people are participating in this thrilling sport, using various items of adaptive equipment which suit different abilities.

Sit-Skiing

There are various options for people who participate in sit-skiing. A sit ski involves a seat called a ‘bucket’, which is attached to either one or two skis. Items called ‘outriggers’ are used for extra stability, and aid in steering the ski. Sit skis are designed so that a participant’s legs are fastened to the bucket and are able to load on and off a chair lift.

A mono ski is where the bucket is atached to only one ski. A skiier will often use two outriggers, which are similar to crutches, but with ski-like attachements on the bottom. Adapative skiiers who use a mono ski may have a lower limb impairment which means they need to be seated to participate. A mono-ski is more commonly used by more advanced and confident skiiers, requiring limited supports.

 

A dual-ski is where the bucket is attached to two skis. A dual-ski is a great option for someone who requires more stabillity, as the two skis provide an extra base of support when on the snow. If a skiier requires extra support for steering, they can be guided by another skiier by attaching tethers or bars to the rear of the bucket.

Ski Prosthetics

The progression of technology also enables people who have had an amputation to participate in standing skiing. Sports prostheses have been developed to enable people to paticipate in skiing after experiencing above or below knee amputations. The ProCarve Sports Prosthesis by Ottobock incorporporates hydrolic technology to dampen impact and support dynamic movement. This means the prosthetic can be used for other sports which involve similar movements, such as wakeboarding or water skiing. This prosthetic is just one example of a product used by both recreational and professional adaptive skiiers, as shown below.

Find Out More

Skiing is one of the most progressed adaptive sports, enjoyed world-wide. Therefore, information about adaptive skiing was more accessible. When you think about the progression of adaptive snow sport technology, evolving from modified crutches, to high tech prosthesis and skis, it is amazing to see the progression and possibilities that technology can bring people with various limitations. If a person was to participate on a recreational level, cost may be a barrier to participation. Ski gear does not come cheap! However, for people wanting to give it a go, there are options for equipment hire and some organisations provide adaptive ski options and programs for people of all ages and various levels ability.

Check out Disabled Winter Sport Australia to find out more about the adaptive ski programs available in Victoria and New South Wales.