Over the past half a century, Australia has participated in the Paralympic Games producing some of the world's best Paralympians. In Rome in 1960, only 17 countries and 209 athletes competed in the Paralympics. The Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016 saw over 160 countries and 4300 athletes compete. Today, the federal and state governments have partnered with sporting bodies and companies to ensure individuals are able to access help both on the sports field and in everyday life.
Paralympic sports provide athletes with disability equal opportunities to compete and be successful. Just like a footballer who carefully selects his or her playing boots, Paralympic athletes select their equipment carefully to match their sporting and individual needs, and give them an edge in elite competition.
If you decide to participate in adapted sports, whether professionally or recreationally, it’s important that you use the right equipment for your safety and enjoyment, and to give you the best chance of success.
Australian Paralympic athletes are offered support services delivered through performance science and clinical services such as performance psychology, physical therapies, sports medicine, sports nutrition and strength and conditioning. Additionally, athletes get to benefit from physiology and performance recovery as well as movement science which includes biomechanics, performance analysis, and skill acquisition.
In adapted sports, performance depends on both the athlete and the equipment, so Paralympic athletes are provided with resources and support assistance to optimise high performance when choosing their gear.
Pathways to the Paralympics
The Paralympic Games cover a wide range of sports and disabilities. The Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) website is a great starting point to find out more about Paralympic sports, their organising bodies and grass roots clubs.
To get started, you should first contact your state or territory sporting organisation who will be able to assist you to get involved and provide details of opportunities to get classified.
The classification system helps foster fair and equal competition among athletes and sports. Each Paralympic sports has unique eligibility criteria and classification processes, to ensure that athletes compete against each other on a level playing field.
In Australia, classification is a free service that is available to all individuals who wish to compete. Although it is not a requirement for general participation in adapted sports, formal eligibility assessment and classification is generally required for entry into formal competition.
Aids for Paralympic athletes
Depending on your choice of sport, there is a range of specialised equipment and assistive technology that may be appropriate. Some items are simple modifications to mainstream equipment, while others are sophisticated aids featuring highly advanced technology. Much of the assistive technology used in sport is designed to help athletes overcome physical impairments and successfully compete in their chosen sport. This equipment includes:
Whether it's tennis, hockey, basketball, or any other seated sport, sports wheelchairs provide Paralympic athletes with a wheelchair designed to deliver sports-specific performance.
Sports wheelchairs are very different from day chairs, and have special features to provide players with both physical protection and performance advantages.
In team sports, the type of wheelchair will differ according to the role each player fills within the team. For every player, their sports chair will differ according to their own skills and abilities.
All sports chairs offer a high degree of customisation and feature specialised technology and design to ensure high level comfort and performance.
Alpine Sit Skis
Sit-skis and outriggers are designed to allow Paralympic athletes to participate in winter sports and enjoy the alpine slopes while maximising their mobility and performance. To sit-ski, outriggers are required for balance and initiating turns. At elite level, skis feature advanced design and materials, often including custom interfaces between the athlete and the ski to maximise responsiveness.
Racing Hand Cycles
Handcycles provide a balance between safety and performance for athletes from entry level to elite competition. While entry level cycles are often used for recreation as well as general competition, as with all professional cycling, the higher the level of performance the more specialised the bikes become.
The latest handcycles make off-track racing, downhill racing and other off-road excursions easier and safer than ever before. Handcycles for road and track racing feature the latest in lightweight, high performance design.
Relevant institutions in Australia
Athletics Australia manages the National Classification Structure for Para-athletics and partners with four national sports organisations in delivering classification. In total there are five impairment groups recognised nationally. All athletes that appear on the Athletics Australia classification master list are able to compete in school sport, little athletics, and Athletics Australia Para-athletics.
Before you are able to compete in the track & field games, you must be a registered member of one of Athletics Australia's member associations. Each state and territory has an AA association, which provides members with the right to compete in events and Personal Accident and Injury Insurance.
The Australian Paralympic Committee
The Australian National Paralympic Committee oversees the preparation and management of Australian teams that participate at the Summer Paralympics and the Winter Paralympics. Originally formed in 1990 as the Australian Paralympic Federation, the APC is the peak national body responsible for Australia's elite athletes with a disability.
The APC manages a number of sports and programs that assist Paralympians to improve their daily activities as well as their performance on the sporting field. The APC manages four Paralympic sports including boccia, goalball, powerlifting, and wheelchair rugby.
Wheelchair Sports Australia
Wheelchair Sports NSW is a charitable organisation responsible for the development, promotion, and delivery of wheelchair sport in NSW. The association assists people with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injury, amputation and other conditions. The organisation offers a range of sports programs, facilities and financial support to both beginners and competing Paralympians.
The association supports wheelchair basketball, hand cycling lawn bowls, powerlifting, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis and among other sports.
Additionally, it sponsors one-day multi-sports coaching clinics held monthly across the state for new and developing members to try a new sport or develop their skills in an existing sport. As you progress, you will be able to access specialised coaching clinics and weekly sports sessions, for developing and novice athletes.
Why are sports beneficial for wheelchair users?
The benefits gained from participating in sports shouldn’t be underestimated. From improving your health to developing new skills and improving personal performance, sport provides a great, social and inclusive opportunity for anyone who wants to play!
For athletes participating in adapted sports, there are clear and established pathways from entry level recreationally-based sport all the way to elite competition, in both team and individual sports.
At Sunrise Medical, we understand the importance of having perfectly fitting and fine-tuned sports equipment. Our sports wheelchairs are ideal for use in either amateur or competition sport and feature the perfect balance of ultra-lightweight material, high performing technology, and cutting-edge design.
Whether it is tennis, hockey, basketball, cycling, racing or any other sport, our sports wheelchairs provide the ultimate solution, whatever level you are at now, or aspire to achieve.