Wheelchair Curling
 
Active Living Magazine

“Try wheelchair curling and you’ll get hooked,” says Alishia Lidums, former program manager of Paralympics Ontario. Social, fun, adaptive to all fitness, age, and income levels, and integrative with able-bodied athletes, wheelchair curling has quickly become one of the hottest up-and-coming winter sports.

Whether you want to play recreationally or competitively, wheelchair curling has something for everyone, and can accommodate most limitations. “A little ingenuity goes a long way,” says Tom Ward, provincial development assistant with Curl Ontario. “It’s a sport where you adapt to whatever your ability is.”

Curler Bruce Cameron agrees. “There are sports that are adaptive for people in wheelchairs, but you still have to be quite athletic, like downhill skiing, swimming, or rugby. Regardless of the disability, curling seems to be something that almost anybody in a wheelchair can do.”

Adaptive Equipment

Wheelchair curling is the perfect sport for budget-conscious athletes. Unlike other sports that require expensive adaptive equipment or even a separate wheelchair, wheelchair curlers can use their own everyday chairs, and adaptive equipment is inexpensive.

The biggest innovation in wheelchair curling is the throwing stick (sometimes called a delivery stick, or extender stick). There are now several brands of sticks on the market, and they can be purchased at many local curling club stores. Originally used by athletes with knee and other health problems, the throwing stick was adapted for wheelchair curling, so that athletes can sit upright in their chairs, fit the stick over the rock, and grasp it. “The stick helps the person, so they don’t have to lean over,” explains Lidums. “It basically lengthens your arm.”

Wheelchair curler Ken Gregory, who conducts curling clinics for organizations such as Paralympics Ontario and the Ontario Curling Association, agrees that the stick has revolutionized his game. “When I first started curling, we used to do hand-to-rock. I was no good at it, but with the stick, it just sailed.” Some curlers also use gloves to help them grip the stick more tightly.

Both manual and electronic wheelchairs are permitted; however, while throwing, the chairs must be stationary. As a result, the cold temperatures can be a challenge, so it is important to dress warmly. Manual wheelchairs, especially, require good brakes.

Using a different set of wheels while curling can also help. “The everyday chair has a push rim. For curling, we have wheels without push rims,” says curler Collinda Joseph. “Without the push rims, we can get a better shot.”

An Integrative Sport

Wheelchair curling follows the same rules as able-bodied curling, with a few differences. Wheelchair curlers play six ends (like innings in baseball), instead of eight. All teams must be comprised of mixed-gender players. In addition, there is no sweeping, and the chairs must be stationary when throwing. In all-wheelchair competitions, players can also request for a volunteer to position and clean the rock if needed.

It is common for able-bodied and wheelchair curlers to curl together in recreational games. “It’s a natural sport for wheelchair curlers to integrate with able-bodied curlers,” says Ward. “Family and friends can all participate together. It’s really ideal for integrative purposes.”

Get started

If you are thinking about getting involved in wheelchair curling, “don’t think any longer, just go ahead and give it a try,” says Cameron. Contact your provincial or state curling association, attend a clinic, and quickly get “hooked” on wheelchair curling.

 
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