Adaptive Sports: 5 Reasons Why Adaptive Sports are Important to Children with Disabilities

Girl in wheelchair looking at horse

Like many of my posts, this week’s topic was inspired by a conversation I had with someone in my life not too long ago. I have made it a general that those around me may ask any question they want, in terms of clarity as it relates to my conditions; all I ask is that it is respectfully done and if a term is used that is unkind or outdated, I will let you know.

Last week someone asked me “if you could play any sport, what would it be?” I answered confidently that basketball and horse-back riding were my favorite sports to engage im. It was then that I could see the wheels in her head turning. She looked at me very confused. Already knowing where this was going, I nodded my head and told her to proceed with asking the question(s) that was on the tip of her tongue.

“But, Ash, how can you play?”  There it was. I began to explain to her all about Adaptive Sports.

Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association defined Adaptive Sports, or Para Sports, as “competitive or recreational sports for people with disabilities. Adaptive sports often run parallel to typical sports activities.  However, they allow modifications necessary for people with disabilities to participate.” (CHASA, 2020

Adaptive Sports were introduced to me from an early age and the lessons I learned from them were so important to who I became as an adult. I have been horseback riding since I was about five-years-old. In fact, for much of my teen years I was training in hopes of competing in the Paralympics. (Sadly, I retired the summer of the London Games in 2012 due to an injury I picked up along with the decline of my health.) I also participated in a wheelchair basketball team during that time.

Adaptive Sports changed my life, and what’s more, it saved my life. It is my hope that by sharing the five lessons or values Adaptive Sports taught me, parents, supporters, siblings, and friends will encourage more participation.

  1. A greater sense of self
    As a result of my participation in adaptive sports I developed a much stronger sense of self. My entire perception of my identity changed when I began participating in adaptive sports. No longer did I see myself as a deviant, so blatantly different from those around me. I no longer focused on my weaknesses, but instead on my strengths, along with my ability to adapt. (pun intended). It was during this time that I began to deeply challenge the negative self-reel in my head and challenge everything that I believed to be impossible.
  2. The importance of community
    One of the most beautiful aspects of disability is the sense of community amongst its members. In my experience, it is unbreakable. Even now as a woman nearing her thirties, whenever I am out in the community and I come across someone with a disability, the connection and sense of familiarity are instant. That is such a beautiful thing. Let’s be honest, many fear what is unknown to them, or different. If you fall into those categories the general population may not always be the kindest to you. However, this is at the core of the community I am a part of. Scarred by that isolation and distance, taunting, and unkind words, most of those with a challenge, limitation, or disability will go out of their way to make another feel included.
  3. Learning how to lose with grace
    One of the most difficult lessons a child must eventually learn is how to lose with grace. Adults try to instill in their children that winning is not the most important aspect of sports or games. Similarly, as a participant in adaptive sports, I had to learn how to depend on others, be a part of a team, and lose while holding my head high. For too long I thought that only applied to sports, but circumstances quickly taught me that it was applicable to the game of life. Life will not always go as planned. Obstacles are going to pop up unexpectedly; how you handle that disappointment, task, or roadblock is up to you. I was better prepared for this as a result of adaptive sports.
  4. Increased sense of self-esteem
    For most of my teen years, I struggled to see the power I possessed because I thought of myself as different, which I then internalized to mean less than. Participating in adaptive sports dispelled with that incorrect notion! I was surrounded by beautiful, unique differences. What is more, each of these individuals was uniquely powerful in their own right. After a while, I began to recognize that what made me different made me stand out in the most beautiful way. It was only then that I was able to embrace my identity.
  5. Strengthened communication
    Communication is a particularly powerful tool for those with disabilities. When we are constantly surrounded by specialists, doctors, personal care attendants, and well-intended friends and family, our voices may get lost on the island surrounding us. However, as the people that know our bodies, conditions,  and limitations the most intimately, we must learn how to effectively communicate with the world around us. Adaptive sports played a large role in the development of my voice. Trust me, you learn how to communicate when you’re on a court with nine other people, shouting for the ball and calling out for help. As an adult, I’ve finetuned my assertiveness and ability to give feedback, but I acknowledge that I was only able to do that as a result of my participation in sports.

This has been my experience with Adaptive Sports and is the reason why I am such a large supporter of it. Not only does it provide a safe avenue for exercise, but it also promotes community, identity, and sense of awareness. Stop allowing the world to tell you that “you’re too this,” or “you’re not enough of that”.

Get out there, participate, and have fun!