What happens on the court …

Participating in sport is a great way to exercise, stay healthy and socialise or meet new people. MARISKA MORRIS takes a look at some of the adaptive sports people with disabilities can play.

There really is every kind of sport for every kind of person. If you are competitive and enjoy socialising and feeling part of a community, you might enjoy wheelchair basketball or rugby. If you are a lone wolf, wheelchair tennis might appeal more to you. If you want something that is less action-packed and more precision-focused, lawn bowls might suit your temperament.

Some of these sports, particularly team sports, require that you join a club. For others, like handcycling, you simply need the correct equipment and an entry into an appropriate cycling competition.

Chavani Mhinga, a wheelchair rugby player for Mandeville Wheelchair Rugby, shares why sport is important to him: “An estimated 7,5 percent of the South African population has a disability, so it can get lonely at times. When you have the opportunity to play sports with other people in the same situation as you, it gives you the opportunity to open up and discuss issues in a way that you can’t with most people around you.

“Sports are also a very good way to keep active, get fit and stay healthy. The benefits are substantial, emotionally and physically.” He adds that wheelchair rugby is mostly played by quadriplegics or people with limited hand movement.

Wheelchair tennis player Mariska Venter believes tennis saved her. “The moment I get onto the court I feel like an athlete. I feel free from the limitation set upon me. Tennis taught me that my wheelchair is not the reason for my limits, but my mind is. Now I don’t believe in limits. If anyone ever tells me I can’t do it, I work hard to prove them wrong.”

The Adaptive Sports Fund (ASF) is an organisation that offers a variety of interesting sports to people with disabilities, including go-karting, scuba diving, wakeboarding, surfing, wheelchair rugby, golf, rowing, skiing, handcycling, mountain biking and paragliding.

“Currently all the adaptive sports on offer are available in the Gauteng region,” says Jeffrey Yates, director of the ASF. “We have a clear goal to roll out all our adaptive sports at a national level in the not-too-distant future.”

There is no membership fee involved and everyone is welcome to try the sports offered by the fund. “Just look for our future events to see what’s coming up next. We encourage all our members to try out all the adaptive sports we have available,” Yates says.

All the sports offered by the ASF – like with most adaptive sports – require some equipment or assistive device. Unfortunately this does exclude some less fortunate people with disabilities, but that is where the fund assists.

“Through our demo days, each person with a disability can experience a different type of sporting discipline, from kayaking and scuba diving to adaptive skiing, wakeboarding or go-karting, to name a few,” says Yates. In November, 2018, the ASF held an Adaptive Golf Demo Day at the Golf Village, Centurion, with more than 20 participants.” In adaptive golf a standing wheelchair is used to allow the participant to hit the ball.

Jacques van Zyl is one of many who benefit from attending the ASF demo days. “I attend so that I can see what is out there. I believe sports and exercise are important no matter your mobility. It helps with morale and motivation to keep striving to improve. Participating in these sports makes me feel more human.”

He urges people to try every sport they can.

To learn more about the ASF, visit www.adaptivesportsfund.org, follow the fund on social media or email Yates directly at jeff@adaptivesportsfund.org.

Another organisation that plays a key role in ensuring that people with disabilities have access to adaptive sports is the South Africa Sports Association for Physically Disabled (SASAPD), which provides some nine sports in 12 regions, including para swimming, para athletics, para powerlifting and cycling. It also hosts an annual National Championship, which assist para athletes to qualify for international sporting events.

Reinhardt Hamman, media officer for the SASAPD, explained what sport means to him in the February issue of the SASAPD Sport Magazine: “Sport, from a very young age, was my release. I could go out and compete …
be myself.

“I have cerebral palsy and am proud of who I am. As I grew older, it became my way of becoming a better version of myself: competitive, hard-working, focused, goal-driven. It taught me the power of determination. Today, although I’m still training for competitions, I give back as a javelin, discus and shotput coach, hoping to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

For more information, contact the SASAPD at admin@sasapd.org.za or visit the website at www.sasapd.org.za.

The Disability Sports Festival also offers a great opportunity to learn more about the various sports on offer. It will be held in George from May 6 to 11. The festival will include exhibitions on a number of sporting codes for people with disabilities, including wheelchair rugby, basketball and tennis. For more information, contact Jonique Claasen-Gonzongo at occ@george.co.za or 044 801 6346.

Besides adaptive sports there are also a number of other sports that, depending on your level of mobility, can still be practised despite limited mobility, including shooting, archery and table tennis.

For a comprehensive list of adaptive sports offered in South Africa, visit www.rollinginspiration.co.za/adaptive-sports-in-south-africa/.

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