100 Questions about parasport

This page was created to use as a part of a guest lecture for a Kinesiology undergrad class at the University of British Columbia. The idea was simple – I had a limited amount of time with the class and knew that I was only offering only a ‘taster’ of disability sport. I knew (or hoped) that students would have additional questions – both practical and theoretical – and I wanted to provide an opportunity for them to ask these questions. And on the premise that ‘if you’re wondering about something there’s a good chance someone else is as well’ I decided to ask students to post questions here publicly where everyone could read them – and read the answers! I won’t be answering all the questions myself – I’ll be asking the ‘experts’ in the field (aka the blog team, other athletes, coaches, volunteers and blog readers to help out).

If you’re not a student in the course please feel free to contribute questions of your own.


Note: This blog is part of a PhD project at UBC. Questions, comments and responses posted on this blog may be used as part of the research project. If you would like to ensure your comments NOT be used please indicate this when you post your question or email Andrea at ambundon@gmail.com. Your participation in this exercise is entirely voluntary and will not in any way be reflected in your class mark. You have the option of posting anonymously or using your name or pseudonym. Thank you for participating.

  1. Use the ‘Comment’ button to post your question.
  2. You can use your name (or part of your name or a pseudonym) or post anonymously.
  3. Number your questions – if the question above your post is #15 then label your question #16 so that we can identify it when we are responding to you.
  4. Make your questions short and specific.
  5. Check back often to read the responses!


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22 thoughts on “100 Questions about parasport

  1. What are your thoughts on Rule 144-2(e), “The Oscar Pistorius Rule”; specifying that athletes must compete without the use of technical aids… Do you agree with this rule or do you think it is more of a ‘gray area’ than this?

    • Firstly let’s look at the broad purpose of rules in sport.

      1) To maintain fair play.
      2) To set the parameters of what constitutes the “game” or “sport” to maintain the spirit and nature of the game.

      Those are all my words… I don’t have time to research the opinions of others on the purpose of rules ;)

      Therefore, in my opinion this rule is absolutely necessary… without it any athlete could line up for the 400m (Oscar’s event) with rollerblades or a bicycle. These examples would constitute unfair play AND a bastardization of the spirit and nature of a footrace.

      Problems arise when you get into more subtle “technical aids”. Subtle is probably the wrong word for Oscar’s blades, but compared to a bike they are clearly less of a rules violation. And if you continue down the ladder of technical aids you might arrive at “orthotic” or “kinesio tape”, at which point nobody would blow the whistle for a rules violation even though the effectiveness of these aids is generally not debated.

      OK – so, if you follow what I am doing here, I am establishing the intent of the rule which in my opinion is APPROPRIATE.

      Then establishing the obvious fact that there will be grey areas with this particular rule. This in my opinion is also UNAVOIDABLE.

      So, what happened in Oscar’s case was not surprising in my mind. His blades, clearly being somewhere around most people’s threshold of what’s “reasonable” or fair were always likely to cause some to cry foul.

      I also think the issue was handled appropriately over all. The fact that use of the blades was challenged seems fair to me, a ruling was rendered by a governing body using typical processes (also fair), an appeal filed – again using normal channels (fair), which led to a new ruling being rendered which overturned the first (fair).

      The topic has now been studied by many, argued by thousands, and subject to so much analysis… Surprising – yes. But not an indication that there is anything wrong with the original rule.

    • I’m not sure which studies you have seen already…

      There have been plenty though.

      The two most well known ones are:

      1 – The Professor G.-P. Bruggemann of the Sports University of Cologne (Cologne, Germany) study in summer 2007 to investigate Pistorius’s running biomechanics and verify any existing advantage.

      This study lead to the formation of the IAAF rule.

      2 – The Houston Report, conducted at a laboratory in Houston in February 2008, “proved” that most of the metabolic findings pointed out in Bruggemann’s report were ‘not conclusive’.

      This report was a big part of the case to overturn the original rule.

      There are, most likely, many other reports / studies / papers written on the topic. It is important to understand that in most cases the reports have been “commissioned” by biased parties looking for particular stances to be legitimized. Sometimes it is impossible to know these details when you read a report and often accusations have been made that aren’t accurate – regarding the validity or origin of a report.

      As with any issue where there is a lot at stake – millions of sponsor dollars, revenue dollars for equipment companies and fame / prestige etc. for athletes – there is plenty of conflict, bias, and opinion.

    • A rhetorical ? Is it ok for the person you are asking the ? of to ask you ?s = It all depends on the context….. Maybe try sharing a little bit of your life/ try relating to an individual- Ask yourself is it essential that I know this information…. How does it pertain to the information that I require to be successful my job &/or to be somebodies friend…./ for that individual to be successful. If I may be so bold ” do you question peoples race/ Question why an individual is short / or why generally basket ball players are generally so tall or yet Steve Nash can be so good”. The truth is not all of us fit the norm /or should I say the misconceptionI of what we are told normal is….. Lastly does it really matter…? A moment in time does not define a person.

      • I’m not an athlete, but I participated in the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay. I had someone come up to me and ask “What’s wrong with you?” Seriously? It was offensive and I quickly pointed out that not everyone participating had a disability. Mine’s invisible at the moment and in the course of the conversation, I found out the person asking so rudely was a nurse. *boggles* A nicer way (IMHO) to ask, if you must is to say something like “So what’s your story?” That allows the person you’re asking to share what they are comfortable sharing.

    • I would say “no”.

      There are many taboo WAYS to ask, but as long as a person is genuine, appropriate and intelligent about how they ask a question I find that it is natural.

      I get asked all the time how I lost my leg. It’s no big deal to me. What is funny is when the person, searching for common ground, references their own worst injury… “I once had a terrible knee sprain…” Hahaha… It happens 1 out every 5 or 6 times I’d say.

  2. As a future PE teacher, what type of inclusions would make a huge difference in terms of awareness and acceptance in a gym class? What could a teacher do to make things easier, to make more people feel happy to be active?

    • It’s a broad question. It would depend massively on the activities in question etc.

      So I am going to offer my own take on how I like to be “included”.

      1) I don’t like to be coddled or treated differently. Don’t assume I can’t do whatever you have in mind.

      2) If something is difficult do not look to change the activity. Look to help me overcome the difficulty. I will be twice as proud when I am successful than if you lower the bar.

      3) Taking part in new and different activities takes planning. If you take the time to think about how I can perform my best you will be a GREAT coach. We can collaborate and teach each other.

      4) Don’t be afraid to see me fail. Failing is a normal part of life. If you are afraid of it for me you will limit my potential – both in performance and in enjoyment of different and varied activities.

      5) You can’t always predict the outcome of an attempt at a new thing. The correct spirit is to apply sensible planning first. There will come a point where a leap of faith needs to be taken. At that point we say “let’s give it a try.” Then based on results we will tweak and adjust.

      Note: This list is for ALL of your students not just the disabled ones. I wrote it that way for a reason. We disabled folk are no different. The planning involved may be different, and the tweaking and adjusting will likely be different and your natural instinct to want to “do it for me” might be stronger but I want to be treated no differently than the other students.

      Bobby “uncoordinated” Johnson and Sally “non-competitive” Cooper might need just as much or more help… so don’t focus all your energy on me. I’ll be responsible for a lot of the “figuring things out” process. I do it every day.

      Another note: To All Disabled Folks,

      Please try hard to apply the spirit and mindset depicted by the points above. Sometimes we can be incredibly high-maintenance, self-absorbed, sensitive a$$es. Acting like a victim makes us victims… and makes it hard for people to know how to approach us.

      Be cool. Try things. Don’t be afraid to fail.

      Hope this helps!

      • I love your response to the question of how you “lost” your leg. Really great feedback Meyrick. I think it happens with AB kids too, trying to prevent them from “failing”. Everyone fails, falls, stumbles sometimes. Those falls help us learn how to overcome and get back up. Thanks for saying that Meyrick.

    • I like to look at this question from a pure sport viewpoint or an athlete viewpoint. This blog is Athletesfirst after all!

      That means that if an athlete can meet the standards required to compete on both stages then they should be allowed to GO FOR IT. This means they must meet both performance standards as well as disability levels required to be classified within a Paralympic category.

      Questions like this are often analyzed from other viewpoints however. For example: the viewpoint of the events themselves (i.e. what is best for the Paralympic / Olympic Games.) OR from a funding perspective (i.e. is it fair that x athlete collects from two pots of money while others are unable to.)

      There are many arguments in favour of athletes crossing over and others that aren’t in favour of it. Nobody is “right” or “wrong” – in the end it comes down to opinion.

      The trump card to me is that elite sports are “entertainment” – and there are few things more exciting and captivating than a paralympian who rises to the Olympic level and can compete against the best in the able-bodied world. That level of triumph over adversity should be celebrated in my opinion.

    • I believe that this ? can be answered by looking directly at our counterparts….. AB ( Able Bodied) athletes –

      Consider economics ~ personal wealth ~ the LVL of training required to be competitive at there given sport

    • There would be VERY VERY few Para athletes who are able to support themselves through their sport – either through carding or sponsorships or both.

      My guess would be less than 1% of all para athletes and less than 10% of Paralympians are earning a living through sport.

      This means that para-athletes trying to reach the paralympic level and Paralympians themselves are generally dividing their focus between sport and “making ends meet” at the very least. Many would be slicing their focus up even more with things like family etc.

      This is not much different than able-bodied athletes however. Olympic sports tend to be very poorly paid (with exceptions like hockey, basketball etc.) and it is only when an athlete reaches the highest level AND WINS that the financial pay-off arrives. Even then it often isn’t the windfall we all think it is – does anyone think the trampoline girl who won gold for Canada in London is rich now?

      Long story made short: Para athletes and able-bodied athletes ALL have to balance sport with life and find a way to make ends meet – this is one of the biggest challenges of high performance sport. Financial hardship for athletes is commonplace. Para athletes suffer from this more as their costs are often significantly higher and the pool of funds available is significantly smaller.

  3. 7.. (i think.. )
    How does one become involved as a guide for visually impaired athletes? Are there requirements that must be met? What other opportunities can a person become involved in “disabled” sport of similar opportunity?

    • Great question – and one I’ll answer as the ‘guide’ on the blog team. There are several sports that require guides – running (track and road), skiing (alpine and nordic), cycling (ride a tandem bike), triathlon (new to the Paralympics for Rio 2016). There are also other sports where the athletes require sport assistants on the field of play – many boccia athletes require an assistant to help them set up the shots, rowing has an able-bodied coxie steering the boat, blind soccer has a sighted goal keeper, swimming has ‘tappers’ who tap the swimmer on the head to signal it’s time for a flip turn… I’m probably missing a few but that’s a good start. In terms of how to get involved – the simplest way would be to start with the sports you yourself do and then start inquiring to see if there is an adaptive/parasport version. There’s a good chance there is. The provincial or national sport organization should be able to direct you to a program or club in your area. Contact the club and ask them if they are looking for people to get involved as guides and assistants – I would be shocked if they say no. In terms of qualifications – most sports are more than willing to train you in the specifics if you are willing to volunteer your time. Obviously there are a few requirements – if you’re going to guide a blind skier at the Paralympics you should probably be a decent skier yourself – remember you’re not only going to need to be able to go as fast as them but you’re going to have to be able to talk and look over your shoulder at the same time :) But that being said – there are a lot of blind skiers who are just starting, young children or who want to ski recreationally – they just need guides who are reliable and willing to learn. The same applies to all sports – the more competitive the program the more skilled the volunteers need to be. Also – in addition to the guides and sport assistants – parasport programs tend to require large numbers of more ‘general’ volunteers. While many of the athletes with disabilities are incredibly independent and capable they do tend to require a few extra people on deck to make the program run smoothly. For example – wheelchair rugby teams may need a few people in addition to the coach to help athletes up if they flip their wheelchairs over. Downhill ski programs also need people to help new sit skiers either control their speed (the volunteer wears a harness and acts a ‘brake’ for the sit skier) or to help skiers up when they fall. So… pick the sport you want to work with and then go looking for a program.

      Oh – and if you’re specifically interested in getting involved in Vancouver there are usually blind runners looking for people to guide in the Sun Run (and for training before hand). If you’re reasonably fit and can run 10k that is a great place to start.

    • Resolved? Not exactly – athletes with intellectual disabilities (IDs) did compete at London 2012 in swimming, athletics and table tennis (I think). But I am trying to find out how many countries actually sent athletes in those events – I’m pretty sure Canada didn’t. So despite the categories being added it seems like many programs and national sport organizations have been very reluctant to include these athletes in their programs – making it next to impossible for them to qualify for the Paralympic Games. I am trying to find more info on what has been done and what the plan is for the Paralympic Winter Games in 2014 – I’ll post more info as I find it.

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