I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I was never destined to be a world class athlete. I wanted to run at a reasonable pace around my neighborhood, keep up in a backyard soccer game, hike a few local trails with friends and buy an inexpensive bike from Wal-Mart to join in on those family rides around the block. Maybe I’d attempt some home workouts now and then. Maybe we would have all tried skiing together eventually. The point is, I liked being active and outdoors as long as it was relaxed and simple. I never did much that required a lot of equipment; I was happy with a pair of good runners and a yoga mat. But then there was that fall – and this spinal cord injury – and getting reasonably active got unreasonably complicated.During my time in rehab I felt bombarded with information on adapted athletics. It’s like you wheel into rehab with neon arrows over your head signifying a potential new recruit to all things wheelchair sports. I’m there with goals reminiscent of taking a shower/using a bathroom on my own again one day and getting home to my family and here they were trying to entice me with hand cycle options, team sports and bungee jumping in a wheelchair. In those months, I didn’t want anything to do with wheelchair sports. There are lots of people who feel a great loss regarding physical activity after their injuries and get a lot from the programs that are presented to them. But my biggest losses were not activity related and so I pretty much avoided the recreational therapists as much as I could.
However, as time went on, I started to see what they were all getting at. I missed the feeling of using my body in an active way. I wanted to feel my lungs burn and my heartrate rise. I might not join in a game of soccer but could play basketball instead. I wanted to discover trails and keep up with my children as they rode their bikes around the block. I wanted to find some home workouts that weren’t full of burpees, squats and lunges. And I even started to think about how we could head up a mountain and try skiing one day.
I started out by wheeling around the neighborhood with my family but, truthfully, it wasn’t much of a pick-me-up. Not only did my heart rate remain pretty steady, I was using the same piece of equipment and the same technique I used all day every day. And a wheelchair made for daily use is not ideal for anything athletic. I wanted to try something different so I began to inquire about what else was out there. I discovered that there was a lot. Then I discovered it was going to be a bit more complicated than stepping out my front door to go for a run. And it was going to be a lot more expensive!
We have great programs in the Vancouver area that allow you to try different sports for free. However, it is usually very difficult for me to fit the equipment they have there to trial. I’m short enough that they usually try me in junior equipment but these hips have carried three babies so the – ahem – width is not usually sufficient. Basically nothing ever fits me quite right which can make a trial more frustrating than fun. Even so, I gave tennis a shot.
Tennis seemed like a good first option. It had the potential to be a sport Ian and I could eventually play together (yes, a wheelchair tennis player can play against an able-bodied player). I enjoyed it, but it was 45 minutes away from home on a Sunday afternoon. 3 hours every Sunday away from my family wasn’t really working for me. This seemed to be a recurring theme. Everything I was interested in was 45 minutes to an hour away from home. Tennis, basketball, bike trials and ski lessons (that couldn’t include children for a good long while) were all too complicated to arrange with our schedules. But I did finally arrange to trial a hand cycle.
And it was a disaster! The bike didn’t fit me properly and without any help from a power assist, I barely made it up the hills. Secretly I was somewhat enjoying it on the flat parts even though the pedals kept hitting my legs and my non-junior sized ass didn’t fit in the seat, but I wasn’t about to admit that.
Between the sun beating down on me and all of the frustration, I was sweating (not in a good way) and dangerously close to sobbing in the middle of the trail. I swore that I hated it and would never do it again. Since then, I have had so many other chair users tell me I need to reconsider and try again in something that fits me a little better. And I think I’m ready. I want to try an off-road hand cycle with a power assist to help with the uphill sections (and maybe to help when I’m lagging behind). I want to join my family on local trails. The problem? An off-road hand cycle with power assist will cost about $13 000.00. Not quite the Wal-Mart special I was hoping for.
Even with this new idea circulating in my head, I was still aching to go for a run. My husband recently started running again which only increased my desire and, frankly, made me kind of jealous. When he completed his first 10K race a couple of weeks ago I decided I needed to try a racing chair. I remember being told it was something a lot of past runners tried. When I inquired, I was pleasantly surprised to learn they were starting an outdoor program only 25 minutes from my home. It was an encouraging way to start.
Tonight was my first try and I think I’m hooked! The transfers were hard and the steering was strange but my lungs were burning and my heart was racing. My cardio is in dire need of work but I’m just so excited that I actually know that! In a strange turn of events, the chair was too big and my upper arms are bruised because of it but it felt so good! The problem? The cost again is a bit crazy. $4000 to get myself a racing chair. Now I have a dilemma. Do I want to buy a hand cycle and adventure with my children, or do I want to buy a racing chair and get those feelings of running back? I miss the simple days of runners and yoga mats.
It seems like every adapted sport involves a different piece of expensive equipment making it impossible to be able to enjoy more than one at a time. Honestly, everything made to improve the lives of people with disabilities is expensive. See the chart below from High Fives Foundation to get a glimpse into just a few of the crazy costs of being an adapted athlete. The list goes on for all disability related things. I remember when I had to talk myself into buying a good pair of running shoes. It took me a few weeks to justify spending $120 on running shoes that I knew I would wear quite often. Now I’m trying to imagine spending thousands of dollars on equipment that I will use far less often than I wore those running shoes. But it will give me back activity that I’ve been so desperately missing.
I still may not be destined to become a world class athlete but I’ve never been happier to rejoin those of the garden variety. Here’s hoping my bruises heal before next week!