Is a Disability a Barrier to Extreme Sports?


Perseverance and technology can do amazing things. Nowhere is this more clear than in the case of extreme athletes with disabilities. You may not be aware that many disabled people not only participate in extreme sports, but also perform at a very high level.

The physical and mental benefits of athletics are no less important or attractive for people living with disabilities. Therefore, new activities and creative takes on popular extreme sports have been formed to allow these courageous athletes to get their hearts pumping and tap into the same adrenaline high others take for granted.

Here are a few examples of how extreme athletes conquer disability.

Adaptive Athletes Take on the Slopes

Skiing and snowboarding are some of the first extreme sports to have come on the scene. These days, they’re radical and mainstream at the same time. As popular activities with avid followings, it makes sense that disabled people might want to take part in these winter-weather pastimes.

To make this a reality, a special sit-ski was developed. It allows paraplegic athletes to descend alpine ski trails, and you can now spot them in use at major ski resorts around the world. The sport has even developed its own heroes, who challenge gnarly lines and perform stunts just like their counterparts who use dual skis or snowboard.

Mountain biking could easily be called the summertime equivalent of these extreme snowsports, and the most extreme form of mountain biking, downhill or gravity racing is another sport that has been embraced by athletes living with disabilities. Legally blind downhill racer Bobby McMullen has become a spokesperson for disabled athletes and the sport of mountain biking in general. McMullen uses a lead rider who communicates changes in the trail to him and couldn’t even be slowed down by double-bypass heart surgery.

Neither Land nor Sea Is Off-Limits

Made popular in the 2005 film of the same name, “Murderball” is a form of adapted rugby that takes queues from wheelchair basketball, another sport in the paraplegic community. It’s been called “the toughest sport you’ve never heard of.” It’s known for delivering a level of intensity and physicality that would make anyone — regardless of disability — a little squeamish to join in the action.

Customizing a traditional sport for people in wheelchairs is one thing, but what about something as extreme as descending into the depths of the ocean? The Handicapped Scuba Association has made the incredibly scenic and meditative experience of deep-sea diving available for athletes with disabilities. The organization was founded in 1981 and today offers a range of certifications that qualify disabled divers at different levels. They can increase the challenge as they become more comfortable with diving.

Meeting the Needs of Adaptive Athletes

Having the courage to take part in clearly extreme sports is something these athletes take pride in. It’s a metaphor for the way they approach the challenges life has thrown at them. These and countless other examples demonstrate that the answer to our question is clearly “no, disability isn’t a barrier.”

Instead, it takes some outside-the-box thinking to find ways for athletes with disabilities to participate in sports like skiing, mountain biking and murderball. These examples focus on persons who’ve lost use of their legs, but many other types of disabilities affect athletes around the world. Every one requires a unique approach, which is why the medical community has committed to developing therapies that not only help people live better lives, but also enable them to get out, be active and compete.

Get Out There and Do Something Amazing

Through their courage and some amazing medical technology, the extreme athletes in these examples are role models for everyone. If you ever need a little motivation to try an extreme sport, just remember there are disabled people out there doing amazing things. If they can do it, so can you.