Rebecca Herbert: Getting around South London as a wheelchair user

Winter sports have been adapted for all so now there are no excuses. Getting active offers important health benefits for wheelchair users but only 18 per cent of adults with disabilities participate in at least one physical activity session each week.

Wheelchair curling is for people with a range of disabilities and mobility issues and can help to build upper body strength.

Rebecca Herbert

The aim is to slide a stone down a sheet of ice towards a target – the ‘house’ – finishing as close to the centre of the target as possible.

Each team will try to prevent the other from achieving this aim by placing a stone in the way or by knocking the opponent’s stone out of the target area. It’s a game of strategy, concentration, and co-ordination.

Curling is thought to have originated in Scotland in the 16th century when people would play the sport on frozen lochs and ponds during the winter months.

The season for wheelchair curling runs from September through to spring.

Why shouldn’t you have a wheelchair on the top of a mountain?  A comment made in 1974 by Disability Snowsport UK founder David Morris. Most slopes and ski clubs have facilities and courses for disabled skiers and advances in equipment mean it’s even more accessible for people with a wide range of physical disabilities.

There are more than 30 dry slopes plus six real snow indoor centres around the UK. Alpine skiing sees competitors race down slopes at lightning speed, often reaching 100km per hour. The main aim is to get to the bottom the fastest. Sit-skis and a monoski are used by skiers with paraplegia or reduced lower limb use.

A moulded seat is attached to a metal frame with a shock absorber spring fastened beneath, acting as suspension over bumps or moguls, and meaning the ski is in contact with the snow as much as possible.

The feet are often encased in the seat. A single ski is attached to the seat via a ‘ski-foot’ which is a block shaped like the sole of a boot that sticks into the ski’s binding. Stability on the ski is maximised by ‘outriggers’ – basically crutches/ poles with a small ski on the bottom.

Monoskis mean para-skiers can ski the landscape in exactly the same way as standing skiers. Para cross-country skiing is when you race long distance over a variety of snow terrains instead of just a downhill slope.  A seat is attached to two skis instead of using monoskis.

Monoskier Ruth Spurr said: “What I enjoy most about being active is the freedom of being out of my chair when I’m skiing.”

Para ice hockey is a full-contact sport with the same rules as able-bodied ice hockey. The team with the most goals wins but if they are at a tie breaker at the end, they go into sudden death, until one team scores a goal or a shoot-out is held.

Adapted sit-down sledges allow players to move around the rink using sticks to propel in a similar way to skiing. A seat is connected to a frame of aluminium or steel and below the seat there are one or two blades. Players are strapped tightly into the seats so that they move as one with the blade.

Sledge hockey was first introduced into Great Britain in 1981 and the British Sledge Hockey Association (BSHA) was formed in 1995 in order to promote and develop the sport.

There are currently five rinks in the UK which offer British sledge hockey.

Snowboarding is not yet truly adapted but a sit-down board is in development in Europe.

If you don’t feel sporty, south London has many ice rinks, permanent and pop-up. Each venue has its own rules but most allow a certain amount of wheelchairs with a carer on the ice at a certain time.

The 2018 Paralympic Winter Games was officially the most successful in Paralympics GB’s history, with seven medals.

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