What is a Sport Wheelchair?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Athlete racing in a sport wheelchair.
Athlete racing in a sport wheelchair.

A sport wheelchair is a wheelchair designed for use in athletic activities. There are a number of design concerns to take into account when developing a sport wheelchair, including maneuverability, center of gravity, and comfort for the athlete. As with other wheelchairs, people usually attend a wheelchair fitting when they are ready for purchase, so they can get professional assistance with selecting a chair and adjusting it to suit their needs. A sports trainer may also be present to discuss issues and needs specific to the sport the athlete engages in.

A number of sports, including extreme sports, can be played from a wheelchair; wheelchair users compete in marathons, play basketball, and participate in curling events, to name just three examples. Wheelchairs designed for specific sports are available, along with generic athletic chairs people can use in a variety of activities. For professional wheelchair athletes, custom chairs are available with special design features.

A typical sport wheelchair is lightweight, to make it easy to handle, and it may break down for transit. The chair often has a low center of gravity to reduce the risk of spills, along with canted wheels for better balance and control. Straps are available for athletes who want to be firmly secured to their chairs, a common need for dance and extreme sports. The sport wheelchair is very sensitive, allowing the user to execute tight turns, flips, and other complicated moves while using the chair. Arm and footrests may be reduced or nonexistent, and in the case of chairs for amputees, a supportive basket may be installed for increased stability and comfort.

For some sports, there are standards for people who intend to compete professionally, and chairs not meeting those standards cannot be used in competition. This is designed to keep athletes safe while also limiting unfair advantages, just as can be seen with standards for other athletic equipment. Judges may request chair inspections to confirm the equipment is appropriate to the sport and sports teams may be provided with chairs by their sponsors for uniformity.

A number of charity organizations provide assistance with fitting and buying sport wheelchairs for people who cannot afford to purchase a sports wheelchair, but want to engage in wheelchair sports. Such chairs are typically not covered by insurance or government assistance, and they can be expensive to maintain and repair. People who need help buying a sport wheelchair can contact a local disabled sporting organization for more information and referrals to assistance programs.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

gravois

Has anyone seen that film "Murderball"? It is all about the sport of wheelchair rugby. I had never heard of it either until I saw the movie but it is really cool.

Basically it is like rugby but it is played in a gym and all the guys are in wheelchairs and can't walk. Aside from that there are few differences. They crash into each other, scream obscenities, fall over, bleed, all the things you would expect from super tough athletes. Except none of these guys can walk. It was a surprisingly inspirational story.

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    • Athlete racing in a sport wheelchair.
      Athlete racing in a sport wheelchair.