An Introduction to The World of Adaptive Sports

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There are adaptive sports for everyone. Whether you prefer individual sports or to flex your competitive muscle, there is a sport suitable for any level of limb loss or limb difference.

Read on to learn about some of the many adaptive sports available and the adaptations or equipment that can be used to enjoy them.

Cross-country skiing

Photo Credit: D. Koerber RNSC via Nordic Ski Club

Cross-country skiing through the winter wonderlands of the world is a joy. There are cross-country skiing adaptations for both those with upper and lower limb difference.

Those with upper-limb differences can cross-country ski without the use of a prosthetic. They will be taught how to control motion using one or no poles. Those with a single lower limb difference can cross-country ski upright using their prosthetic.

Others with lower-limb difference may require a sit ski (sometimes called a mono-ski). This is a sledge with two skis attached to the bottom that should snugly fit the skiier.

Cycling & Hand Cycling

Photo Credit: Invacare

Anyone can enjoy zipping around their neighborhood or a track with a variety of cycles and modifications. In some cases a standard bicycle can be used with modifications for a single arm or leg amputation. Other adaptive cycles include:

  • Handcycles, a three-wheeled cycle propelled by arms
  • Three-wheel recumbent cycles for foot-pedaling with a low center of balance. Variations include:
    • Tadpole-style recumbent cycle: with one wheel in the back and two in front for better balance
    • Delta-style recumbent cycle: with two wheels in the back and one in the front
    • Recumbent handcycle resembling a wheelchair with a higher seat, good for someone with less mobility

You can also find off-road variations of most of these bikes to help you explore the wilderness. If downhill mountain biking is more your speed, you can look into adaptive 4-cross bikes.

Downhill Skiing

Photo Credit: Disabled Sports USA

Skiing down the majestic wintery slopes can be enjoyed by people of all different types of ability, with and without prosthetics.

Those with arm amputations can make use of a single pole, or sport prosthetic hands designed specifically for skiing. Single-leg amputees can use two skis with their prosthesis if it is designed for sport, or remove their prosthetic and use just the one ski while holding outrigger crutches that have ski tips.

There are also sit-down downhill skiing variations using a mono-ski or bi-ski, sleds with either one ski or two on the bottom designed for different levels of stability and maneuverability.

Kayaking

Photo Credit: Onward and Upward

Kayaking can be enjoyed competitively or leisurely by those with upper or lower limb difference. Standard kayaking requires three points of contact:

  • Your back tight against the seat
  • Feet touching foot pedals with a slight bend at the knees
  • Bent knees in form contact with the side of the boat

Adaptations can be made for those with limb difference to still maintain the three points of contact. Lower leg amputees can utilize special prosthetic sockets or foam airbags to maintain posture and paddle effectively. Upper limb amputees can use a special hand prosthesis to control the kayak, or make use of a one-armed paddling rig.

Rock Climbing

Photo Credit: Shirley Ryan Ability Lab

Indoor and outdoor rock climbing can be performed by people with all different levels of ability and limb difference. For those who only have limb loss in a single limb, you may be able to climb using your other three!

For those who want to take rock climbing more seriously, there are upper limb hand grips and leg/knee/foot prosthetics specifically designed for climbing.

Running

Photo Credit: Ottobock via World Para Athletics

Those with lower limb difference who want to run like the wind can make use of specialized prosthetic knees and/or running blades. These sports prosthetics completely revolutionized running for amputees all over the world.

It is important when getting started to ensure you are observing proper running form. Before getting started in earnest you will need to make sure you learn the ropes from your prosthetist, therapist, and/or other runners with similar amputation level.

Sitting Volleyball

Photo Credit: Volleyball Canada

One of the most accessible sports for lower limb amputees as it requires no specialized equipment. It is also a great sport to play with full-bodied athletes as the rules ensure it is a level playing field.

Team members sit in designated positions and can pivot to reach the ball. However, some portion of a player’s torso must always be in contact with the ground. The court is smaller than standard volleyball, and the net is lower.

Sled Hockey (also called Para Ice Hockey)

Photo Credit: The Sled Hockey Foundation

Sled Hockey (now referred to as Para Ice Hockey by the International Paralympic Committee) is a great option for those with lower leg limb difference who enjoy a high speed, high-contact sport.

Para ice hockey is a modified version of ice hockey where players sit on a specialized sled with two skate blades underneath. Rather than one full-length hockey stick, players have two smaller sticks – one end has metal “picks” to be used for propulsion, while the blade end is used for passing, stickhandling, and shooting. Otherwise, the rules are virtually the same as standard ice hockey.

Tennis

Photo Credit: Justin Tzou via Athletes Roll

Tennis is a popular adaptive sport with different rules of play and modifications used in competitive play. Specialized tennis rackets come in different shapes and sizes to accommodate different types of limb difference. Competitive play variations according to the TAP World Tour (an adaptive standing tennis league) are as follows:

  • Category A1: Is for individuals who are missing a hand, arm, upper body impairment, or an individual who is missing one leg below the knee. Standard tennis rules apply.
  • Category A: Is for individuals with upper limb deficiencies (smaller arms), an amputation of the leg above the knee, amputations of both legs below the knee, or an individual with an amputation below the knee with impairment to the other lower limb. Standard tennis rules apply.
  • Category B: Is for Players with an intermediate functional mobility and who can maneuver around the tennis court. Court size is reduced to 18 x 8.23 meters and an orange ball is used.
  • Category C: Players with functional disabilities and have some movement on the tennis court. The court size is reduced to 11 meters x 5 meters and using a respective red ball.

There are also wheelchair tennis leagues in which players use sports chairs for faster turning and movement.

Wheelchair Basketball

Photo Credit: Josh Zytkiewicz via The Clarion

To play in most wheelchair basketball leagues you are required to have a lower extremity disability that prevents you from playing standing basketball. You do not, however, have to use a wheelchair for everyday use to qualify!

The court is the same as standard basketball, with hoops at regulation height and a standard basketball. There are only a few modified rules compared to standard basketball:

  • Must dribble once every two pushes
  • No double dribble violation
  • Rear wheels must remain behind the free-throw line during a shot
  • The three-second lane violation remains in place, except when a player is actively trying to exit but is blocked

Where Can I Learn More About Adaptive Sports?

No matter what level of athleticism or your level of amputation, there are sports that are ideal for you. This guide only scratched the surface, there are lots of other adaptive sports out there.

For more information about the different adaptations, leagues, and rules for adaptive sports, we encourage you to check out the websites on our list of adaptive sports programs across the US. Many of these programs have intro classes or leagues so you can to try out a sport before deciding to fully invest in equipment.

If you would like more information about what sports might be suitable for you or someone you know, reach out to one of our information specialists for free resources.