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When OTs Wore White Shoes

The Paralympics

Published November 10, 2015 11:48 AM by Debra Karplus

I am a member of the Neighborhood Services Advisory Board here in my town. Via a recent city event, I met a lovely young woman who is employed by the city's public works department, specifically recycling. Over dinner, several of us started talking and I discovered that this woman was also involved in Paralympic Volleyball. Confused why that such a very poised and able-bodied ambulatory woman was involved in sports specifically for people with disabilities, my look of surprise obviously caught her attention.

That's when Nichole Millage #13 subtly handed me a colorful glossy postcard-sized business card listing the achievements of this two-time Paralympic silver medalist, a member of the USA National Sitting Volleyball Team since 2005. I was impressed! Her card states that she graduated from one of our local high schools in 1995, and lost her left leg below the knee after a 1998 boating accident when she was only 21 years old. 

Growing up in Chicago, I attended a fair number of Cubs games at Wrigley Field. But, frankly, I am not someone who follows any sports, and seldom attends any games, not even college football or basketball which are huge here in this Big Ten college community of Champaign-Urbana. So, I've never really given much thought to wheelchair sports either. As an occupational therapy student here at the University of Illinois, I was somewhat aware of wheelchair basketball, but that's about the extent of my interest in any kind of spectator sports.

Curious, I did some searching online about wheelchair sports. I was quite surprised at their long and extensive history. Wheelchair athletics emerged In 1944 in England. In 1948, the first Olympic Games were held in London. Sixteen men and some women competed in archery. By 1956, volleyball competitions were being held in the Netherlands for people using wheelchairs. By 1960, wheelchair sports, or Paralympics, had grown notably with 400 athletes from 23 different countries competing in archery, basketball, swimming, fencing, javelin, shot put, table tennis and several other sports. There were several web sites that told about different aspects of wheelchair sports including teamusa.orgsittingvolleyball.org,paralympic.org, and disabledsportsusa.org.

As occupational therapy practitioners, our ultimate goal, since the beginning of the profession in the early 1900s, has always been to turn disability into ability. Paralympics does exactly that. Many of the wheelchair athletes had in fact been athletes before they acquired a disability, but some became athletes after they became disabled.

I would enjoy hearing from occupational therapy practitioners who have had some personal or professional experience with wheelchair sports.

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3 comments

Kudos to you, Jody, for your accomplishments both as an athlete and for being a fellow OT.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Debbie K, article author

Debra Karplus November 19, 2015 11:57 AM

I started competing in wheelchair track and field events while I was in college earning my degree in occupational therapy.  Born with spina bifida, this was my first experience doing anything athletic. The first year I qualified for Nationals (1980), the Wheelchair Games were held at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana!  I competed nationally for the next five years. Every year since then, I have participated in a number of local 5K/10K wheelchair races. I have also played some wheelchair basketball. Getting involved in wheelchair athletics was a "life-changer" for me.  

Jody , Mental Health - Occupational Therapist November 18, 2015 2:44 PM
Jamestown ND

Addendum to my article:  

Last week Tim Nugent, age 92, died.  A local colleague, he was instrumental to making life better for people with disabilities nationwide, including wheelchair accessibility, curb cuts, and more.  

He was also a key player in getting wheelchair sports off the ground here at University of Illinois and beyond.

Tim will be missed.

Debbie Karplus, article author

Debra Karplus November 18, 2015 12:47 PM

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