How To Get Into Wheelchair Curling If You're A Student
There are three things that students are most concerned about - money, fun and studying. In what order depends on the individual, but there's no denying that for students with disabilities the first two can be a challenge in a world that struggles to provide the necessary support. Sport can quite often satisfy the fun element of the student experience but according to the Canadian Paralympic Committee less than 3 per cent of Canadians with a disability are involved in organized sports. There's every reason to believe these statistics are mirrored in other countries. Despite the availability of wheelchair sports the wheelchair user, particularly those who have severe physical impediments, still face exclusion from many sports require a degree of physical exertion.
Wheelchair Curling Is Fun
Money aside, what about the fun? That's where Wheelchair Curling comes in. Relatively new on the scene it's a sport that's easily accessible, cost-effective, sociable and inclusive. Perfect for cash strapped students needing a break from the daily grind of assignments and tests.
Curling is thought to have been invented in Scotland during the 16th Century. Surprisingly, Wheelchair Curling is a recent entrant to the sports scene beginning in Europe in the late 1990s and was introduced to North America in 2002. It has grown rapidly and is now played in 20 countries and is one of the flagship Paralympic sports. The appeal has grown through its main strength - simplicity.
For students this means a low barrier to entry in terms of cost - if you have a wheelchair, you like the idea of propelling granite stones across an ice rink and you have a local curling organization then you can play.
Why Wheelchair Curling?
From a social perspective there's no hidden barrier to separate the players. The rule is that regardless of condition if you're in a wheelchair you can participate. Even better, wheelchair players can compete side by side with able-bodied players and there's no gender separation. The only modification in rules compared to able-bodied competition is that, if required, a participant is allowed the use of a delivery stick and there's no sweeping in front of the stone (this is a rapid sweeping motion carried out by the team as it travels towards the target area).
Given that access to sport for disabled students can be difficult due to funding issues the costs are minimal. Ensuring that financial assistance for equipment and modifications is in place helps ensure a more comfortable student experience overall. Furthermore, accessing all financial grants from national organizations for study assistance reduces the financial burden all students have to face. The extent of purchasing equipment may be confined to a delivery stick - but if a person is able to reach down to ice rink level then the stone can be thrown by hand. Other than that the curling clubs fees need to be met but asking for a student discount should be a natural response! Wheelchair modifications are unnecessary and access to ice rinks shouldn't be a problem. Check ahead of time that the rink does have wheelchair access and prepare them for any ramps that are necessary to access the rink itself if not already in place.
As far as physical capabilities are concerned the player is required to be able to send the stone across the ice over a 40 yard distance. The object being to get closer to a circular target than an opponent. The wheelchair remains stationery and there is little physical exertion beyond that. An additional person may be required to help keep the wheelchair still so bringing a friend helps, but there'll be plenty of club members there to assist if need be.
How Students Can Get Involved
The first port of call is to use university resources. As with any student activity the student union should have information relating to a campus curling club. Canadian universities have a strong presence of teams and in countries where curling is popular such as Scotland, the United States and Denmark a number of universities should have a curling sports team to contact. If they haven't made provision for wheelchair curlers this represents an opportunity to develop links with the team to raise awareness of the sport and create opportunities for other wheelchair users looking for an active outlet.
A secondary option is to then find out about local teams operating in your area. Wheelchaircurling.com has a comprehensive list of Canadian curling clubs that specifically welcome wheelchair curlers in addition to clubs around the globe. Failing that there are also listings for national organizations which can be contacted for details of curling clubs local to you.
A third option for those with the necessary drive and ambition is to start a wheelchair curling club. Funding can be requested from student unions or local organizations such as the Rotary Club who take a keen interest in deserving local initiatives in cities around the world.
Whilst equipment isn't necessary in all cases, delivery sticks will either be provided by curling clubs or can be purchased relatively cheaply.
Curling Makes The Paralympics
Wheelchair Curling made its Paralympic debut at the Turin 2006 Winter Games which has dramatically increased the sport's profile. Elite sports may not be on everyones radar but for those seeking an outlet for their fierce competitive drive the Paralympics is the ultimate destination.
The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games will be in Sochi and the organizers are hoping to build on the hugely successful summer games in London 2012 where the global profile of Paralympians scaled new heights. Wheelchair Curling offers the possibility for talented students to access this level of competition, so taking the first step of visiting a rink could be the catalyst for a journey to the grandest sporting stage of all.
Student life can present many challenges - especially when you're a wheelchair user. With many enjoyable activities out of reach Wheelchair Curling presents a fun, sociable and cost-effective way to relieve the pressures of studying. For the more ambitious a rise through the competitive ranks could one day lead to representing your country and a starring role in the Paralympics. You just won't know until you give it a try.