The following is excerpted from an article on sports and recreation for the physically handicapped that appeared in the March 1978 issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine. The participants in the discussion are Davis P. Beaver, Ed. D.; Robert W. Jackson, M.D.; B. Cairbre McCann, M.D., and Duane G. Messner, M.D. The moderator is Allen J. Ryan, M.D.
Ryan:- Which disadvantaged persons can benefit most by regular physical recreational activities and how are they helped?
Jackson - Persons who are afflicted by some paralyzing disorder are probably the ones who can benefit most from physical exercise and recreation . . . Through exercise, they can regain maximum use of what physical capacity remains and these make their day-to-day activities much easier . . . the athletes enjoy better health generally. As you may know, in 1976 we held the Olympiad for the Physically Disabled in Toronto - an international event. When we cleaned up the residences after the games, six pairs of crutches and three wheelchairs were left behind. This may be a better record than Lourdes.
Ryan - What are some of the psychological benefits that accrue to the handicapped athlete, Dr. Messner?
Messner - . . . There is a common saying among amputees that it's not what you have lost, it's what you have left that counts. This is true physically and it is certainly true mentally.
Fred Tossone, one of several Vietnam veterans among our instructors, is not only an amputee but he's had multiple injuries and cosmetic problems. Yet he's done an excellent job of personal rehabilitation, and I would like to quote him about psychological advantages of physical activity:
Considering the abvious list of difficulties in learning to ski (with one leg), it is terrific boost to one's self-confidence and self-respect, not only regarding the sport itself but also in everyday life.
Ryan - When I attended the Olympiad for the Physically Disabled in 1976, I was impressed with the athletes' spirit of involvement and participation. There was gaiety and no feeling of discouragement or depression that I could sense.
Jackson - You're right! These people have tremendous spirit. Maybe I shouldn't mention it, but they also develop a pecking order: the wheelchair athletes are very sympathetic toward the blind athletes, but neither of these groups is especially concerned about the amputees because they are okay except that they are missing a part. But the athletes all work and play together, and they all look at the other guy and feel he's worse off than they are, which makes them feel a little better . . .
Ryan - Does a disadvantaged person need to be involved in a special program to be able to participate safely and successfully in some physical recreational activity or sports?
Messner - I think a program is certainly advantageous, depending on the specific activity the individual wants to participate in. If it is a sport such as skiing and the person is an amputee, then I think individual instruction and a special program, at least initially, is extremely important. In most winter sports, some special instruction would be necessary both to instill confidence and to teach the proper technique of the sport, because the impaired person has to do it a little differently, assuming he or she is an amputee or is impaired by multiple selerosis, cerebral palsy or a similar problem.
Ryan - What sports are available for the wheelchair athletes now, Dr McCann?
McCann - There is a wide range of track events: some in recent years have been getting longer and longer, even to marathon distances. There are now three wheelchair events - javelin, shot put and discus.
Generally, the approach is to follow the prevailing rules of ablebodies sports as much as possible. The primary team sport is basketball. Swimming is an expanding sport among the disabled and the paralyzed, with increasing distances and varieties of strokes that even a few years ago were considered to be beyond the capabilities of the more severely handicapped - butterfly strokes, for example . . . The bench press is the chief weightlifting event for the paralyzed person. Table tennis, bowls (English bowling) and fencing also are available.
Ryan - What sports do you have now in your organization for the blind athlete, Dr. Beaver?
Beaver - In the U.S. Association for Blind Athletes, we have goal ball, similar to line soccer which sighted athletes play . . . We are going to have our first national championship this year. We also have track and field, wrestling and swimming and we are currently exploring the feasibility of archery, gymnastics, sailing, weightlifting and horsemanship, as well as a variety of winter sports.