Sports and Disabilities

Steve Penhollow
Nov. 12, 2009

Limits disappear with adaptive sporting goods

When Sun Valley Adaptive Sports in Ketchum, ID, was established in 1999, there weren't many adaptive equipment options for disabled people who wanted to play sports. It may seem strange to cast the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in a good light, but one positive thing that's come from them is a flurry of development and innovation in the adaptive sports field, says Tom Iselin, executive director of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports.

Iselin says the military medical institutions, like Brook Army Medical, Palo Alto Trauma Center, Bethesda Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, have "their own manufacturing rooms" where "different types of prosthetic limbs" are "created on the spot."

Disabled fly fishermen can now get waterproof legs, harnesses, and housings that allow them to cast and reel, while disabled rock climbers receive prosthetic arms and hands designed specifically to aid them in climbing. There's even adaptive equipment that allows wheelchair-bound climbers to scale rock walls.

"Just pick any sport," says Iselin. "There's something adaptive for it. In this day and age, any person with any disability can participate in their sport of choice."

Iselin says adaptive sports equipment is not made based on what people can't do anymore but what they can do.

"It's not what the disability is, it's what the abilities are," he says. "It's 'How can you use your current abilities to overcome any obstacles to doing the sports you want to do?'"

Sun Valley Adaptive Sports is a non-profit organization that has offered athletic programming and equipment to disabled children and adults since 1999. It's a chapter of Disabled Sports USA and networks with the top adaptive sports programs in the country.

Adaptive sports equipment doesn't come cheap, which is why programs like Sun Valley Adaptive Sports exist. Sun Valley Adaptive Sports raises money to buy a handcycle for an individual, for example, or a piece of equipment that a disabled group can share.

Another good resource, says paraplegic competitive cyclist Carlos Moleda, is the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The foundation gave out over $1 million in grants last year to people seeking help to pay for adaptive sports equipment. This year the foundation has raised an additional $2.5 million for grants.

Moleda says no organization is doing quite what the Challenged Athletes Foundation is doing these days.

"Most insurance companies won't pay for (adaptive sports equipment and prosthetics)," Moleda says. "Your local rotary club may be able to help you out with $100 or $200."

A new handcycle, for example, costs 20 times that, Moleda told us. The Challenged Athletes Foundation steps in to supply grants to individuals all over the world, from age 8 to age 80, Moleda says.

When it comes to the cutting edge of adaptive sports technology, non-veterans may have a tougher time than veterans getting access to equipment. Iselin says there is no "point and click resource" for civilians seeking adaptive sports equipment. But there are national organizations devoted to every sort of disability and they should be able to help.

Referencing a blind man who recently climbed Mount Everest, Iselin says the sky's the limit for disabled athletes.

"There are no limitations," he says. "If people want to do it, there's a way to adapt it."

Steve Penhollow is a writer and editor specializing in trends, arts, and entertainment for families.
Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

Please enter a valid email address

Thanks for signing up!

We’ll see you back in your inbox.

Leave a comment

Create a free account with and join our community today.

You may also like

How much should you pay for a babysitter?