We may not think of this as alternative transportation, but for a person with a walking disability, a wheel chair provides freedom of movement, and at times much more. The ability to pursue a pastime or a sport is good for body and soul. For that reason, and given the opportunity and proper equipment, many sports turn disability into ability to perform at the highest level.
Many more activities than mentioned here were performed from wheelchairs during the last two weeks at venues in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Fresh in our memory, the Parapan Am Games in Toronto just came to a festive and an inspiring and successful finish for many athletes from all of the Americas. During these events, many athletes qualified for participation in the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
We witnessed the wheelchair rugby events, where the vehicles are akin to battle tanks, with collisions and wheel replacements the norm. We marveled at the quick and nimble movements during the wheelchair basketball games; Different wheels and structures allow the athletes to twist and turn on the spot, pirouetting and sprinting from end to end of the court in seconds. We watched the elegant wheelchair racers accelerate and gain speed, reminding us of drag racing, where the machines are built for one purpose only.
As in motorsports, each type of event has evolved its own type of alternative transportation, best suited for the task. So-called niche vehicles require special design and engineering solutions; the same is required of the ‘vehicles’ wheelchair athletes use in different types of competition.
Having mentioned motorsport, Alex Zanardi, a much-loved IndyCar racing driver, lost his legs in a racing accident. A very competitive person, Zanardi switched vehicles and went on to win gold medals in wheelchair racing at the 2012 London Paralympics. The desire to race saw Alex return to fast cars, and BMW modified a car to suit him. He continued his winning ways in the World Touring Car Championship, proving that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
Very recently, this reporter’s good friend Tony D. lost his right leg. Days ago, while others raced in Toronto, Tony used a regular wheelchair to keep mobile. Waiting for a new leg, he remembers racing his Mini, driving Mustangs and Corvettes. In good spirits, he is eager to get ‘behind the wheel’ again, proving again that it’s all in the mind. We all wish him well.
Creating The Ultimate Driving Machine, the BMW Group has also been helping winter athletes to great success. Now, the company’s North American division is helping wheelchair athletes by designing and fabricating a new racing chair for next year’s event. This wheelchair will have an extremely light carbon-fiber chassis, (like the BMW i3 electric car’s body) and an improved steering and braking system. The aerodynamics will get special attention, because at more than 35 km/h air resistance is starting to cause noticeable drag on athletes and their vehicles.
“We’re a company that likes to solve mobility challenges, and there is nothing more challenging than Paralympians who rely on that chair, on and off the track. Trudy Hardy
“This is an endeavor of the heart, which makes it special as well”, said Hardy, VP Marketing BMW of North America. BMW continues to show its heart.