Wheels: Journeys in Paralympic Sport
Pushing a wheelchair should be easy, right? You put your hands on the wheels and, well, push.
Would that it were that simple when it comes to playing sport in one.
Throughout my nascent wheelchair basketball career I’ve been told that I should be make long pushes. Start at the top of the wheel and push right down as far as you can do.
The problem is when I did this I found I wasn’t getting any speed. My alternative was to hold the wheel at the top and… push push push push push like a demented, I don’t know. What sort of metaphor can you use in that situation? Answers on a postcard. Or an e-mail. Or something.
That, I found, was the only way I stood a chance of keeping up with more seasoned players. Even then…
Every now and then I’d get told by a coach that this was the wrong way of doing things. So I’d use the long pushes they told me I should be using, slow down, and promptly return to the mad, fast, short pushes as soon as they weren’t casting jaundiced eyes in my direction.
Until a recent session when Kevin, a team mate, remarked upon my unusual pushing style. Cue a hasty conference with Rick, another team mate who seems to glide effortlessly around the basketball court at a pace that would get him a speeding ticket if he did it in a residential area.
They then demonstrated the correct way to get speed out of the long pushes. You basically have to put your whole body into, utilising your core muscles and bending low as you can into the push.
I’ve never been the sort of person that really takes well to teaching. I’ve always preferred to work out my own damn way of doing things. Even if that way proves to be the wrong way.
On this occasion, however, I decided to break the habits of a lifetime and listen to what they were saying.
The transformation in my speed was electrifying, at least from where I was sitting.
The wonderful thing about sports chairs in general is the pace you can get out of them even when you’re pushing them wrongly (does like a demented insect work in my case? I’m not sure).
The new technique resulted in a step change. So much so that I duly crashed into a wall at one point. There’s a lesson in that. You still have to watch where you’re going – especially given that sports wheelchairs don’t have brakes.
Clearly there’s more to pushing a wheelchair than, well, just pushing as fast as you can.
Bending low (or as low as you can get – having broken various vertebrae limits me in that respect) works for wheelchair basketball.
But maybe not for every sport. I recall that wheelchair rugby players would get a laugh by advising able bodied journalists sent to try out this strange new sport (new only to the media) around the time of the Paralympics to bend as low as possible.
Not always a good idea. The result, in a full contact support where chairs crashing is an integral rather than incidental part of the game, is that they tipped out of their chairs until they realised what was going on.
I guess there are other techniques to use for other events using chairs. I’m keen to try some of them out.
* In the meantime, kudos to the GB Wheelchair basketball men’s team who won the Easter Tournament 2014 finishing with overtime wins against Australia and the Netherlands. They thus claimed the title for the second year in a row. Its refreshing that there are sports teams in the country which actually go out and win things. The 16-team event proper is held in Incheon, South Korea from July 1 – July 12.
- GB Women’s participated in another World Championship 2014 prep event against Japan and Germany at the University of Worcester Arena. They reached the final where they were unable to overcome Germany’s Parlympic Champion side. Yes, I know. Germany again. The 12 team championships will be in Canada between June 19-29.
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