In April 2023, the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) held its Annual Scientific Meeting in Atlanta, GA. The event marked the 50th anniversary of the annual meeting, and it featured a pre-course that showcased the "Science of Sport." Chaired by Dr. Suzanne Groah, MD, ASIA President, and the Director of Rehabilitation and Recovery Program, and Spinal Cord Injury Research at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, and Amy Bohn, OTR/L, a practicing occupational therapist (OT) at the Children's Hospital of Atlanta, the pre-conference was the first time that the adaptive sports community was provided a platform to discuss its origins, evolution, and the need for improved access and continued research in the arena of disability sport.1
To begin the conference, Suzanna Groah, MD, provided opening remarks and detailed why she felt the need for ASIA to include adaptive sports as part of its 50th anniversary pre-course. Dr. Groah has been a champion of adaptive sports and recreation throughout her career, and felt it was fitting that the conference was being held in Atlanta, where the 1996 Paralympic games3 focused on the empowerment of people with physical impairments and identifying global issues in elite sport.3
Robert Murray, a former employee with Las Vegas parks, long-time member of USA wheelchair rugby staff, and current wheelchair football coach, opened with a "History of Adaptive Sports," which included the evolution of sports based on access, technology, and research.1
Michelle Lanouette, MS, PT, NCS, ATP, a physical therapist at the Milwaukee VA and active USWRA and WWR Classifier presented on the "Evolution of Classification Across Adaptive Sports," which included an overview of individual sports classification, as well as changes in classification due to research and the expansion of populations participating in sports.1
Andrei Krassioukov MD PhD FRCPC, FASIA, a past ASIA President and Professor at the University of British Columbia division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, presented his research on "Autonomic Function as a Missing Piece of Classification of Paralympic Athletes with SCI."1 Dr. Krassioukov is considered to be a pioneer for his work related to autonomic function and the International Paralympic Committee awarded him in 2020 for his work.2
Christopher West, PhD, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, presented on "Maximizing Exercise Capacity to Improve Sports Performance in Athletes with SCI."1 Dr. West's research has focused on cardiovascular and pulmonary systems in SCI, investigating the limitations to exercise performance, and more recently the relationship between autonomic completeness of injury, sporting classification, and cardiovascular function.
Jereme Wilroy, PhD, an assistant professor and Project Co-Director for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Spinal Cord Injury Model System, presented on "Incorporating Rest, Recovery, and Nutrition into Sports Training."1 As a wheelchair athlete, Dr. Wilroy has focused his research in the area of physical disability and exercise, with an emphasis on the psychosocial aspects of adherence to exercise among people with disabilities.
Harsh Thakkar, CPT, peer wellness coordinator at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, presented on "Access to Fitness."1 As a wheelchair basketball coach, Harsh is focused on the aspects of strength training, as well as how to adapt programming to promote access and inclusion within community-based fitness programming.
Hannah Houde, a doctoral candidate at Auburn University with a focus in sport biomechanics, presented on "Technology in Sport."1 Hannah serves as Auburn University's wheelchair basketball team propulsion specialist, and her passion for sport and movement has led her to study biomechanics in Paralympic and adaptive athletes.
Kerri Morgan PhD, OTR/L, ATP, an assistant professor in program of Occupational Therapy and Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, presented on "The Current State of Paralympic Research and Identified Gaps: A Scoping Review."1 Dr. Morgan's passion is in the area of disability, physical activity & exercise participation, aging with a disability, and wheelchair use and training.
Rita Penniman, MS, CTRS, RRT, a manager of therapeutic recreation at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, presented "Who Is Appropriate for What Sport and Why?" which included an overview of what determines a good sport match for individuals with SCI.1
Sarah Leonard, PT, DPT, ATP, a clinical education manager at Sunrise Medical, presented on "Translating Concepts of Wheelchair Prescription to Sport," which included an overview of sports equipment, seating and positioning considerations related to sport, and an overview of funding challenges and resources.1
Deborah Shapiro, PhD, a Professor and Health and Physical Education Program Coordinator in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University, presented on "Psychological Impacts of Participation in Sports."1 Dr. Shapiro's research explores psychosocial factors and health benefits associated with sport participation among individuals with physical disabilities.
Zac Bradley, MS, CRC, NCC, a vocational specialist at Shepherd Center, presented on "Incorporation of Peer Mentorship and Sports," which included the impact of peer mentorship in his own recovery and his path to becoming a clinical rehabilitation counselor, and available research to support implementation of peer mentorship programs following injury or diagnosis.1
Finally, a panel of athletes convened to discuss the real-life impact sports and mentorship had on their lives, including Paralympians Dr. Kerri Morgan and Bill Furbish, Harsh Thakkar, and Zac Bradley.1
Following the pre-course, the highlight of the event was the welcome reception, a Sports Expo that showcased 24 adaptive sports. Athletes, coaches, and team representatives came from across the country to showcase their individual sports and share their passions with ASIA's community of medical professionals. It was truly eye-opening for many of the attendees to see individuals of varying age, diagnoses, and physical function not only participating in, but actively competing in elite sport. Inclusion has always been the goal of the adaptive sports community. Now we must collectively strive for equity in terms of access and research.
And if you have sport-specific wheelchair questions, you can start your research and consult with an RGK Genius today.
- American Spinal Injury Association Scientific Meeting. (2023). American Spinal Injury Association. https://asia-spinalinjury.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/2023-ASIA-Program-4.12-Final-w-abstracts.pdf
- Andrei Krassioukov. (2023). The University of British Columbia Department of Medicine. https://medicine.med.ubc.ca/andrei-krassioukov/
- Atlanta 1996. (2023). International Paralympic Committee. https://www.paralympic.org/atlanta-1996
Sarah Leonard PT, DPT, ATP specializes in neuro rehab with experience in spinal cord injury and brain injury rehabilitation. As a PT, Sarah has trained under industry-leading professionals who fostered her love for complex rehabilitation technology. As an ATP, Sarah has experience working for a national complex rehabilitation technology supplier. Additionally, Sarah presently serves as the assistant coach for the United States Wheelchair Rugby Association Low Point Team and has been an active participant in adaptive sports and recreation throughout her career.