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Staying Active and Connecting to Your Sports Community Online By Sarah Werner

The pandemic
has made it more difficult for everyone to get adequate exercise. This lack is
most acutely felt by people with disabilities who are at a higher risk for
complications from COVID-19 than other groups, making returning to the gym or
to group exercise more dangerous. The warm summer weather is great for people
who participate in solitary outdoor sports like handcycling and wheelchair
racing. It’s harder if your usual mode of exercise is with a group class, at
the gym, or playing a team sport. And even the solitary sports can get lonely
without connection to fellow athletes. Fortunately there are lots of ways to
stay active by engaging with an online community in whatever sport or mode of
workout you love. Connecting online can also help you develop new skills in
your sport or learn how to repair or spruce up your equipment while you have
extra time on your hands. With more people working and attending school online,
the world of sport has moved into the virtual world more than ever as well.

One of the
best ways to be encouraged to stay active is by being part of an online community
of similar athletes, whether it’s wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball, or
handcycling. Facebook is full of such groups, offering tutorials, online
training sessions via Zoom, and informative conversation about the sport. There
are groups of handcyclists and wheelchair racers who get together once a week
to practice on indoor rollers and give encouragement to each other. In a recent
search I found over a dozen Facebook groups dedicated to wheelchair racing and
about ten groups for handcycling. There are also several groups for wheelchair
basketball players and quad rugby enthusiasts. These are forums where athletes
can share their accomplishments, questions and sorrows about practicing their
sport during the pandemic.

Another
option for wheelchair racers is taking part in virtual races. Most road races
have been canceled or moved online, and this includes wheelchair divisions. The
Falmouth Road Race, for example, has a whole host of online activities and
goodies just for wheelchair participants before and during their August 23rd
race (https://falmouthroadrace.com/). 
Signing up for a virtual race gives you the same motivation to reach a
training goal by a particular date as participating in an actual race would,
and it also gives athletes the chance to socialize via Zoom meetups beforehand
as well as a live feed during the race if the organizer offers that.
Participants also usually still get the t-shirt and coupons that normally come
with signing up for a race.

Another great
opportunity for athletes is to register for the Angel City Virtual Games,
happening for three one-week periods starting July 13 and ending August 30 (https://www.angelcitygames.org/). Elite athletes and coaches from 11
sports will be offering training sessions and resources for their sport,
including swimming, track and field, tennis, basketball, judo and goalball.
Each week will feature challenges that registered participants can take part in
as well as live-streamed virtual workouts. It will also feature community
building activities and virtual concerts, mimicking the actual experience of
the games as much as possible.

A related
option is to sign up for a virtual camp geared towards your particular sport.
The University of Illinois recorded sessions from all of their virtual camps
and made them available on their website for those who weren’t able to
participate live (https://www.disability.illinois.edu/camps). They have a series of video
tutorials for each of their two sports camps, wheelchair track and wheelchair
basketball, which include advice on proper technique as well as workouts you
can do as you watch the videos. They are taught by the college coaches at
University of Illinois and include footage from games and races to help
demonstrate proper technique.

You can also
spice up your personal workout at home with advice and videos from top
athletes. Paralympic champion wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden has a great
upper body workout that anyone can try no matter your sport of choice (https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a33022496/tatyana-mcfadden-upper-body-workout/). If you’re missing your group
exercise class, there are some good resources on YouTube. The Shepherd Center
in Atlanta has an entire YouTube page of workout resources, including cardio,
core stability, and deep breathing (https://www.youtube.com/user/ShepherdCenter). 
Individuals also share their own home cardio routines with minimal
equipment necessary, like this one (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbFvZEPTXDk).

If you’re
looking to use this time at home to hone your technique or learn new skills,
there are a lot of online resources available from leaders in the sport. World-renowned
wheelchair racing athlete Daniel Romanchuk is doing how-to posts on Facebook
for wheelchair racers (https://www.facebook.com/thedanielromanchuk). His tutorials so far have covered
tuning your track compensator, steering, retreading pushrims, and how to select
the right tires.

 Watching historic games is another good way to
pick up tips in team sports like wheelchair basketball and quad rugby. Finals
matches for both of these sports from both the 2012 London Olympic Games and
2016 Rio Games are available in full on YouTube so you can have a chance to
learn from the best of the best athletes from all over the world.

No matter
what sport you love or if you only workout to keep up your cardiovascular
health, there are a bounty of resources online to help you set and accomplish
your fitness goals. All signs seem to indicate that the pandemic will be
disrupting many aspects of our lives for months to come, and staying healthy is
one of the best ways to prevent disease and keep up your spirit during these
uniquely challenging times.

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How to make Wheelchair Racing Gloves with Aquaplast, by Sarah Werner

Wheelchair racers use several main types of gloves to push with. Racers often start out in the sport with “soft gloves,” which are made of leather and rubber. These provide a wide pushing surface and are useful in developing a good pushing technique.

“Hard gloves” are made out of aquaplast or 3D-printed plastic with rubber glued to the pushing surface. They are lighter and cooler than soft gloves, but can be harder to learn pushing technique when just starting out in racing. 3D printed gloves are rapidly gaining in popularity because they are made for a wide variety of hand sizes and aquaplast can be tricky to mold, especially if you don’t have the help of a knowledgeable person to make them.

The benefits of aquaplast gloves if you have the skill and time to make them are numerous. They allow you to create a glove uniquely fitted to both your hands and your pushing style. They are also significantly cheaper than soft gloves or 3D printed gloves, which cost between $150 and $300.

An aquaplast kit only costs around $40 and comes with aquaplast beads, aquaplast sheets, and rubber sheets. You can make them as large or small as you like, depending in your pushing style. You can glue hook and loop straps if you want a more secure fit. Aquaplast is also easy to remold before you glue anything onto it, so you can start over if you find that the fit is not ideal after you mold them the first time. The kit I ordered came with 16 ounces of aquaplast pellets and two sheets of rubber. Some kits also come with sheets of aquaplast and less pellets. I had the help of my occupational therapist in making these, so we melted the pellets in a hot water bath at 190 degrees Fahrenheit.

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My Awesome Accessible Beach Trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama By Sarah R Werner

Beaches are favorite vacation spots for many people. The relaxed atmosphere, warm sand and abundant sunshine all draw millions of people to the US Gulf Coast each year. For those with mobility impairments however, the beach can be a daunting and inaccessible place. Crutches, walkers and wheelchair wheels all sink miserably into sand, making just getting out to the shoreline almost impossible. Many coastal communities are trying to make their beaches more accessible with access mats, close parking and ramped boardwalks over sand dunes, and Gulf Shores, Alabama is one town that has made a commitment to accessibility. During my trip there in October I experienced first-hand how much more fun the beach can be when you can actually reach it.

Gulf Shores has made an effort in the recent renovation of their main beach area to become an accessible destination. The first thing I noticed was the ample amount of disabled parking available close to the beach access, and the wide paved sidewalks from the parking area to the sand. Continue reading