Sunday, October 17, 2021

One new sport may well open access to athletics for all

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It was an ongoing frustration that paralyzed athletes in contemporary-era sports rarely get a chance to be their best. Despite extensive and important advancements in equal access and opportunities, the goal and goal of many nations and communities remains the pursuit of gold and other elite athletic laurels on the international stage. And all over the world, with the handicapped in mind, inspired disabled athletes have long been spreading their wings—in combat sports, ice-skating and, this year, in paratriathlon, an entirely new sport in which competitors must balance, swim and run on a racquet with a rigid handle in front of their wheelchair.

Aside from promoting sports-advancing physical and psychological rehabilitation, the sport could also be a means of distance therapy for Paralympians who may also suffer from cerebral palsy, spina bifida or other forms of cerebral dysfunction. “Paratriathlon is a great way to keep your mind, body and soul sharp,” says Tim Westby, who lives in Fairfax and competes internationally in the sport. The husband of a paratriathlete, he helped organize the first-ever meet at the National Arboretum last weekend.

“This is a life-changing sport for people who can’t do other activities, like skiing, swimming or rock climbing,” says American rider Jane Muirhead, who also began doing some paratriathlon training through a para-alpine Olympics project in the Swedish province of Zermatt last year. In April she is slated to compete in the World Paratriathlon Series in Europe, with a similar opportunity in the U.S. coming up later this year. After that, Muirhead plans to compete in more paratriathlon events in the fall and winter.

“This program is very American in that it focuses on helping people heal their minds and bodies. For me, it’s just allowing me to get on a pair of wheels and do all the things I couldn’t do before,” says Jane Muirhead, pictured at the recent meet at the National Arboretum. | Inset: Paratriathlete Nick Briggs. | Photo courtesy American Professional Paratriathletes

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