Last month’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games gave Spokane the national spotlight on wheelchair athletics. According to hometown athletes, wheelchair sports have had a great local scene long before the recent event rolled into town.
“I never knew what a paraplegic was until I became one,” said Brent King, Cheney resident and veteran games participant. In 1994, King fell 22 feet off an obstacle course leaving him paralyzed. Soon after, the Spokane Department of Veterans Affairs took him on his first recreational trip: snowshoeing in Crested Butte Colorado. Next stop were the 1995 wheelchair games in Atlanta, Georgia and the rest you can say is history.
“The games really opened my eyes to all the possibilities out there,” he said. “It shows us what there is to do as opposed to what we can’t do.” Throughout the years King has actively played tennis, sledge hockey, basketball, snow shoed, water skied, done marathons and more. There is definitely a way to modify any sport, he says, it just changes the rules a bit.
Locally, King said the VA and St. Lukes Memorial Hospital are active in organizing teams and individuals, sometimes even taking them as far as the Paralympics. “Getting the organization, getting a coach, and getting the funding are the hard part,” King said. At this year’s wheelchair games King participated in the Air Rifle, Slalom, and Super G events. His next goal is to hit the weight room and get into paraplegic body building. “As long as it’s recreational I’ll do it,” he said. “I’m not going out for any metals or awards. I just want to keep active, stay healthy and do a variety of different things.”
Here’s the gear you might expect to see King cruising around in:
WHEELCHAIR: King uses the TiLite Titanium Manual Chair which he modified with mountain bike tires in the wheelchair games slalom course. Next year, he plans to use a thinner, racing tire.
BICYCLE: The Freedom Ryder is a three wheeled, lean steer bike that sits very low to the ground. A t-bar in at the front of the bike holds King’s gears and brakes. “Wheelchairs are generally 3 years behind bicycle technology,” King said. “But we use a lot of bike components. Essentially it’s a modified bike.”
DOWNHILL SKI: The Prasghberger Momo Ski is a fiberglass seat on top of a single ski with two arm riggers and a BMW motorcycle shock. Inside bearings cover his feet and a lap belt straps him in like a kayak
WATER SKI: The Kan Ski Super Comp Water ski is a double footed ski boot with a padded cage up to the mid waist and a body sling back. “You see kids hooking these cages up to wake boards and doing flips with them,” King said. “I don’t think my 38-year-old-body is ready for that.”
HELMET: Just a regular bike helmet.
GLOVES: Diamondback padded fingerless gloves. King said he only uses them for long rides like in the Coeur d’Alene half and full marathon.