News Seth Stratton | one year ago

From Paralysis to Cyclists

When people with disabilities want to learn a new sport or hobby, they often turn to adaptive sports.

With the help of community-based organizations, and specialized equipment, people of all ages can learn or re-learn practically any activity imaginable – from bowling, water skiing and rugby to sailing, hunting and cycling. First used in the 1950s as a tool to help injured war veterans, adaptive sports are fairly commonplace in today’s rehabilitation efforts. In fact, rehab professionals say sports and recreational activities are a vital part of a successful rehabilitation program, especially for those who are newly disabled. Whether someone is born with a disability or they become disabled later in life, adaptive sports offers an outlet for people to gain confidence and live an active, healthy lifestyle. Throughout its decades-long history, the Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program (ASAP) at Carolinas Rehabilitation, part of Carolinas HealthCare System, has helped fuel countless stories of triumph in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Both Brian Muscarella and Greg Taylor overcame unexpected injuries that left them quadriplegic, or with limited use of their limbs. Muscarella became paralyzed five years ago, following a rare spinal stroke. A mountain biking accident left Taylor paralyzed 22 years ago.

From paralysis to competitive cyclists

With support from the ASAP, the Charlotteans not only learned to adapt but, eventually, went on to become competitive para-cyclists, or hand cyclists. On July 2, the duo participated in the US Paralympic Team Trials in Huntersville. They were among 400 athletes with various disabilities who vied for a spot on the US Paralympic Team. This was their chance to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While Taylor and Muscarella got second and third respectively – missing their shot to compete on a global stage – they say the event was a success because it boosted awareness about ASAP and other local resources for people with disabilities. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrVaXepBlyc&w=560&h=315]

Passing along wisdom

“We didn’t ‘win’ the race, but we still won,” says Taylor. “ASAP gave us the opportunity to do something that few athletes get to do: participate in a Paralympic event. That’s what ASAP does: It gives people with physical disabilities the opportunity to find out what they can achieve. And that makes all of us winners.” Taylor, who actively works with patients at Carolinas Rehabilitation, took Muscarella under his wing after he got injured. Now, they train together at least three times a week. “Greg and I were both treated at Carolinas Rehabilitation and have reclaimed our lives by participating in the Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program,” says Muscarella. “ASAP has changed my life and enabled me to lead a productive, healthy lifestyle – so, I promote the benefits whenever I can. But the fact we can compete in a national race for the Paralympics speaks volumes about the success of the program.”

The gift of independence

Jennifer Moore, LRT/CTRS, with Carolinas Rehabilitation, serves as the coordinator of ASAP. She’s been involved with the program since the 1990s and regularly works with Taylor and Muscarella. “Our program serves as an opportunity for people with a physical disability to get back out and enjoy life,” she says. “We provide sporting and recreational opportunities for those who can no longer participate in a regular avenue.” The program offers fellowship but its main goal is to help participants of all ages develop skills so they can stay active and live as independently as possible. “Our youngest right now is one of our water skiers and she is three years old, and our oldest participant… is in our tennis program and he’s in his 70s,” says Moore. From blindness to paralysis and amputations, each participant’s story is as varied as the disability they must overcome. ASAP provides the community and the resources to help people move beyond their disabilities. “I used to ride a lot before my injury and, once I was injured, I thought that was over with,” says Taylor. “Five years later, I discovered hand cycling and I got on one, and I haven’t looked back.” To learn more about ASAP, call 704-355-1062 or visit GiveCarolinas.org/ASAP.

Sports and recreation as rehab

Benefits include:
  • Reduced stress levels
  • More independence
  • Greater educational/employment success
  • Reduced dependency on medication
  • Fewer secondary conditions (i.e. diabetes, hypertension)

Fast Paralympic facts

  • Organized activities for adults with disabilities date back to the 1880s, but the first Paralympic Games didn’t hit Rome until 1960
  • The 2012 Paralympic Games in London attracted more than 4,200 athletes from 164 countries
  • Out of 503 events in 20 sports, athletes set 251 world records and 314 Paralympic records
  • The 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil will draw athletes from 172 countries