From the moment I arrived at the rehab hospital to learn how to live with paralysis, people were asking me what sort of adaptive sport I’d get involved in. Though it seemed like a given to everyone else, for me it was anything but. I was in no frame of mind to think about shooting hoops or racing in a wheelchair while sprawled out on a hospital bed, a dazed and scrawny paraplegic who couldn’t sit up without help.
For one thing, in addition to my long road to some sort of recovery, I still had medical limitations. To this day, more than four years after an SUV hit my bicycle and crushed my spine, orthopedic issues prevent me from participating in contact sports or getting into the water. Hopefully, that’s about to change, but for now, water sports are out.
Shooting Hoops Isn’t for Everyone
What struck me was how everyone really wanted me to play wheelchair basketball. It seemed that people thought a team sport would be good for me physically and socially. I’d get to meet new people in wheelchairs.
When I was in rehab at the Kessler Institute in West Orange, we even went on a field trip to a wheelchair basketball game. Yes, a field trip. Ten paralyzed patients in a bus outfitted for wheelchairs, plus chaperones and special seating at the arena. It was the first time I’d left Kessler other than to go to the doctor.
Wheelchair basketball, the most well-known of adaptive sports, was the only sport they really pushed, and everyone seemed to think it would be so easy to adapt to it. But anyone who knows me knows that I was a lousy basketball player before the accident. Granted, my height and inability to jump are no longer issues, but I’d still have to be able to get the ball in the hoop.
A Lifelong Athlete, Still
For nearly 50 years I’d been an athlete. I ran track in high school, was a double diamond downhill skier, competed in marathons and triathlons, and performed in the Bantam Lake Water Ski Club show. Over the years, I’d even taught myself to be a graceful telemark skier and teleboarder.
I was also an avid cyclist, which kept me fit enough to survive that out-of-control SUV. As my friend and cycling buddy, Zach, said after a sleeping driver barreled into the two of us at the end of a 50-mile bicycle ride in northern New Jersey, “Bicycling saved my life -- and nearly killed me.” Zach also suffered multiple injuries in the accident, including a shattered hip.
I knew basketball was out because I couldn’t play, but even though I can’t really golf, I thought adaptive golf might be worth a try. I quickly discovered that golfing doesn’t get any easier as a paraplegic. You should have tried to golf with me when I could stand. Dreadful at best.
While I wait for the okay to get in the water to swim, snorkel, kayak, row, and water ski, I work out with weights and a trainer. We focus on my core to help with my daily activities as much as possible. Plus I use a stationary handcycle to get in some cardio work. But it’s unsatisfying, partially because the handcycle provides only limited upper body cardio exercise.
I also gave outdoor handcycling a shot, thinking that since I was a strong cyclist before, it might be a good fit. But it isn’t the same as bicycling. The third wheel makes it less agile and not as much fun, and I gotta believe that nightmares of my accident don’t help.