Chuck Aoki: Do able-bodied people belong in para-sport?

American wheelchair rugby player Chuck Aoki wants to know what you think about able-bodied people involved in the Paralympic Movement. 16 May 2013 By Chuck Aoki

I think it is important we know the motivations behind an able-bodied person who wants to work with people with an impairment.

What is the place for able-bodied people in para-sports?


I sometimes wonder about this question. Do they belong?


I feel the answer is a resounding yes. The majority of people on earth are not disabled.


So the involvement of able-bodied people is both inevitable but also important and positive.


The question then becomes to what extent should they be involved in para-sports?


Should we limit their involvement to solely support staff roles, such as trip planning, managing equipment, and keeping them away from the actual sport itself? Or should we involve them deeper, into areas such as coaching, and administrating, so that they can make real and potentially lasting impacts on the game itself?


This seems to be at the crux of the discussion, in my mind.


I think it is important we know the motivations behind an able-bodied person who wants to work with people with an impairment.


It would seem important that their motivations are the same as any coach who works with able-bodied athletes.


I spoke with Tracy Chynoweth, the former head wheelchair basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the USA, and a former assistant coach for USA’s Paralympic men's wheelchair basketball team about this issue.


Tracy is able-bodied, and he offered an interesting insights into his time as an able-bodied coach working in the disabled world.


One of Tracy's great points he made to me might seem simple, but it is an important one.


He said: “People always asked me if what I did was rewarding … meaning working with people with disabilities. I always told them it’s like any other sport – rewarding when you achieve your goals. It’s rewarding when you win, when kids graduate, when you see student-athletes grow and develop into young men and women.


“It's rewarding, yes … but that has nothing to do with the wheelchair.”


I think Tracy finds the rewards in helping his disabled athletes achieve life goals, as any coach of able-bodied athletes would as well.


He doesn't see the chair, so to speak.

I would describe this approach as being aware of someone's disability, but not allowing it to define your interactions with them.


Mandy Goff, team manager of the US Paralympic wheelchair rugby team echoed Tracy's sentiments.


When I asked Mandy what advice she would give to an able-bodied person about to enter disabled athletics, she said: “When working with individuals with disabilities ... give (them) all their independence and don’t assume that they need help until they ask for it.”


I personally think that if able-bodied people can embrace Tracy and Mandy's lessons, on how they can best interact with para-athletes, then they can go as far as they want to in Paralympic sports.


If able-bodied people are willing to commit to the success of their athletes the way Tracy and Mandy have, there is no reason why they cannot become crucial members of para-sport.


Wheelchair rugby for example, my sport, had four head coaches who use wheelchairs, and four who did not have any impairment.


I'm certain these coaches embrace the values Tracy and Mandy possess, and I do know most of them, so I feel confident in this assertion.


The top three teams were all coached by wheelchair users, however.


Coincidence? Or not?


What do you think?


Can able-bodied coaches be as successful as disabled coaches in para-sport?


Feel free to continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter!

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