There’s a form of recreation for just about everyone, including wheelchair users, and most activities — from bowling to Zumba — are more fun than work.
Gary Ryan, secretary of the American Wheelchair Bowling Association is on a mission to show wheelers that bowling is a great way to stay active, social and healthy. Ryan, a wheelchair user due to polio, started bowling in 2008. “A friend of mine said let’s go bowling,” he says. “I said no way! That’s for old guys!” After playing a game, though, Ryan was hooked. “Anyone can play anyone,” he says. “Standing, sitting, it doesn’t matter. And there are opportunities for both recreation and competition.”
Many of the newer centers, like the one where Ryan bowls, are fully accessible. “Even the older centers now have portable ramps so wheelers can access the lanes,” he says. And you don’t need anything special to play, since bowling centers have shoes and balls available for everyone. “Even bowlers who can’t independently roll the ball can take advantage of the bowling ramp that most centers have on hand,” says Ryan.
Ryan likes that bowling is family-friendly and affordable. “Most sports events are beyond the reach of families. To go to a baseball game costs a family of four upwards of $200. For around $50 they can go bowling and get a pizza.”
If you want your own equipment, shoes can be found for as little as $35 a pair. A good ball will run at least $80. And for those who want to throw fewer gutter balls, all United States Bowling Congress certified bowling centers will soon have coaches available who can coach bowlers with disabilities.
Ryan believes bowling is the perfect activity for anyone of any age. “Families, friends, dates — anyone can bowl together, whether you use a chair or not,” says Ryan. “The main thing is to have fun with it!”
Ping Pong Anyone?
Whether you call it ping pong or table tennis doesn’t matter, says six-time Paralympic medalist Jennifer Johnson, a wheelchair user as a result of childhood polio. “Just pick up a racquet and play!” Though Johnson is an elite player, she says table tennis is great because “you can play with your family, friends, anyone.” Plus, wheelchair users can play other wheelers or standing players.
Table tennis clubs around the country charge fees ranging from $350 and up for a year of unlimited play. Drop-in rates range from $10 a day to $50 an hour. Clubs also provide the racquet and balls.
Johnson plays at a fully accessible club with 18 tables that is open year-round. Some clubs are housed in community centers or recreation centers and may have more limited hours and availability. Other, more upscale clubs have a nightclub atmosphere with lighted tables, drinks and food.
For those who want to invest in their own equipment, a good racquet runs $50 and up, and a table can cost $800 and up. “But because clubs have equipment, you don’t really need to buy anything,” says Johnson, “and wheelchair users don’t need anything special to play. Even a quad can play. All you need is an Ace bandage to wrap the racquet to your hand.”
Johnson recognizes that it can be intimidating when you see people making the big shots, but says if you learn a few basic skills, you can play well enough to have fun with your family and friends. “Table tennis is a great sport for recreational play because it is really social. And believe it or not, it is great for the mind, the eyes, and it keeps you in shape!”
Zumba: Dance Workout
Created in 1991 when Colombian dancer/choreographer Beto Perez improvised an aerobics class to a salsa and merengue tape he had with him, Zumba is an aerobics class and Latin dance party in one that has millions of followers around the world, including Corina Gutierrez.
Corina Gutierrez, a 34-year-old wheeler, has been doing Zumba for almost four years, and she has been a licensed instructor for two. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, Gutierrez was disenchanted with the exercise options available to her. “I can’t lift weights,” she said, “and eight years of PT, OT and aquatic therapy didn’t really do me any good.”
Gutierrez was inspired to try Zumba because she loves to dance. “I contacted the instructor and asked if I could join the class,” she says. “She said yes. I went, and I was hooked! What I love the most is that anybody can do it.”
“Zumba is like a great dance party,” she says. In addition to it being fun, Gutierrez noticed improvements in her health. “In a few months, I got stronger. My asthma improved, and I even grew an inch!”
You don’t need any special equipment to do it. “Just regular workout gear, a water bottle and a towel if you sweat a lot!” she says. Less expensive than joining a gym, Zumba classes range anywhere from $5 to $25 around the United States.
Gutierrez travels the country bringing her passion for health, fitness and Zumba to audiences everywhere. Though she was the first wheeler to become a licensed Zumba instructor, she is not the only one. “We’re all over!” she says. “But most instructors have some familiarity with modifying their classes for wheelchair users.”
• To find a club near you, go to www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/Clubs/Find-a-Club.
• For equipment, go to www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/USATT/Approved-Equipment/Equipment.