Friday, March 4, 2011

Story 28: Extinct Wheelchair Sports

Over the past 28 days, we've seen how wheelchair technology has become more advanced, new sports have been created, and rule changes have made existing sports more exciting and competitive. Athletes no longer have to compete in at least 5 events if they want to go to an international games and federal carding money and professional leagues now allow athletes to train full time.

But the shift from wheelchair sports being seen as "recreational opportunities for the disabled" to being seen as elite sports did not benefit every sport. Today, we take a look back at a few wheelchair sports that have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Square Dancing

During the '60s and '70s, wheelchair square dancing was alive and well in BC. While dancers did not perform the traditional do-si-do or swing moves, they participated in several other "promenade-style" dances. Though a quick Google search turns up the fact that groups such as the "Swingin' Spokes" still perform wheelchair square dancing "at demonstrations in malls and parks," square dancing is no longer a mainstream wheelchair sport.


This wheelchair sport was a combination of archery and darts and was considered appropriate for people in wheelchairs since the darts were lighter and participants could stand closer to the target. But as adaptive equipment made archery more accessible, darchery fell by the wayside. It was cut from the Paralympics in 1980.


Wheelchair slalom was designed to be the wheelchair sports equivalent of hurdles. It mimicked skills that a person in a wheelchair would need in daily life, such as going up hills or curbs. Participants pushed day chairs through obstacle courses and did "wheelies" on top of certain ramps. Though it was never a Paralympic event, slalom was hugely popular. Many athletes who competed in slalom, such as Pat Harris, went on to become Paralympians in other sports. When sports like wheelchair basketball, track and tennis became more competitive, the appeal of slalom began to fade. The sport has nearly completely died out and most wheelchair athletes today do not even know it existed.

Pat Harris competes in slalom.

Wheelchair Volleyball

Can you spot the Paralympians in this photo? Hint: one of them wheeled around the world.

For a brief moment, wheelchair volleyball looked as if it would develop into a Paralympic sport. Some of BC's top athletes competed and the sport was championed by coach Tim Frick, who comes from an able-bodied volleyball background. Perhaps because it was fairly difficult and had a steep learning curve, or perhaps because athletes were more interest in faster-paced sports like wheelchair basketball, wheelchair volleyball never caught on. Instead, sitting volleyball became a Paralympic sport.


Snooker was once a popular wheelchair sport and was even included in the Paralympics. Unfortunately, snooker lost its Paralympic standing in 1988 and since then it has been relegated to a form of "cross-training" practiced in bars across the province.

Table Tennis

Table tennis actually isn't an extinct sport -- it's still played at the Paralympics -- but its popularity has decreased significantly in BC and is no longer administered by BC Wheelchair Sports. During the '60s and '70s, however, table tennis was one of the most popular wheelchair sports around and several Paralympians participated in it.

1 comment: