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How I Found Refuge in Wheelchair Sports

by Josh Selmyer

For even the most active, social, and happy people, an acquired disability of any significance can decimate a once-vibrant life. Too often, the disability robs a person not only of the activities they once loved, but also the social component of the now off-limit activity. Just think—when you hurt your knee and can’t golf for a few weeks, you don’t only miss golf, you also miss your golf buddies. When the inability to golf is a permanent one—as it is in many including mine—one needs to find another way.

Easier said than done, or at least it was in my case. I came to wheelchair sports not as a curious onlooker, eager to enrich my already full life. I came to wheelchair sports desperate. Desperate for a sustainable, positive foundation upon which to build a new life. I needed both a physical outlet and a real-life social network, and I needed it immediately.

In my time of desperation, adaptive sports stepped up to the plate.

Four years ago, the rehab hospital spat me out a fragile, wide-eyed thirty-eight year old child. Though my support system was strong and my attitude was right, my ‘life’ was burned to its’ foundation. Not my life, but my ‘life.’ You know—all the stuff I used to do, and the people who used to do it with me. The good news was I had a fresh new chance at life; the bad news was I had to start from scratch.

Virtually nothing in my life was under my control, save for pushing my manual wheelchair. So I pushed. And pushed.

Like a quadriplegic Forrest Gump, I pushed hundreds and hundreds of miles at my local park, my only opponent the stopwatch on my run-tracking app. I’d found a physical outlet, but my social life remained pathetic in its’ vacancy. On a whim, I signed up for a Memorial Day 5K race being held in my neighborhood. If I hate it—I figured—I can always duck out of the race and just push home like nothing happened. Frankly, I was scared out of my mind.

Turned out I didn’t hate it one bit, and twenty races later, I’m still going strong. This April, I conquered a long-time goal—the 7 Mile Bridge Race in the Florida Keys. Along the way, I’ve met countless great people, many of whom have become close friends. The overwhelming bulk of these people I either met pushing my wheelchair at the park, or at local running events. Adaptive sports has been the architect, general contractor and construction crew of my new life. They were my way out of the desperate, detached isolation that befell me, as it does so many disabled people.

Going forward, I continue to involve myself heavily in adaptive sports, not only as a participant, but also as an advocate of its’ benefits. My advocacy is rooted not only in my own experiences with adaptive sports, but also from my observation of the beneficial effects adaptive sports have on my disabled friends. Sports are a crucial lifeline for so many disabled folks, myself included. The onset of disability foists myriad fundamental changes upon a life, and it can feel impossible to fit in. Luckily, sports is the one thing we all have in common. As the population ages, and more Americans than ever suffer profound disability, our support of adaptive sports programs is more needed now than ever before.

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