Once an Athlete, Always an Athlete

In 2005, I was introduced to the sport of power soccer. While I was a reporter for the State Press at Arizona State University, I came across this amazing adaptive sport for people with disabilities.

I was doing a piece on adaptive sport options for people living in the Phoenix area and power soccer came up during my research.

As a quadriplegic and electric wheelchair user, I was intrigued to see what the sport was all about. After doing some additional research, I found myself at a local power soccer practice to see the sport in person.

Once I began watching these athletes dribble the ball around the court and seeing the smiles on their faces, I knew that it wasn’t going to be long before I became an athlete myself.

From the moment I strapped a plastic guard to the leg rests of my wheelchair, I felt something that I thought was gone forever. As a kid, I was an avid sports fan and spent many a weekend playing on local soccer and little league teams.

Playing sports was a big part of my childhood and when I lost the ability to move my arms and legs, I thought the days of me being a competitive athlete were over. But once I experienced power soccer, I realized that I could still be a part of the sports world as a competitive athlete.

Over the past eight years, I’ve seen the sport of power soccer go through numerous evolutions. During my early experiences with the sport, the emphasis was very much on dribbling and ball handling. More recently, rule changes have been implemented to open up the game and encourage more passing and strategy.

With all of these new changes, the game has become more exciting not just for the athletes, but for the spectators as well. Along with the rule changes, we have seen the wheelchairs used by the athletes go through their own evolution.

During my first few years of playing power soccer, I used a mid-wheel drive chair with a plastic guard fastened to the leg rests. As the game evolved, I transitioned to using a rear-wheel drive chair with a metal guard fastened to the chair’s frame. Today, I am currently using a custom-built wheelchair specifically designed for power soccer.

With the advancement of technology in power soccer, electric wheelchairs now have more speed and maneuverability than ever before. But with the advancements of these wheelchairs, a big debate is starting to emerge.

Is a superior wheelchair all you need to be a superior power soccer athlete?

As a power soccer athlete, I have to say that it takes more than just a finely tuned, custom-built wheelchair to make you a top-tier athlete.

Not only do you need to have advanced cognitive ability, but the higher-performing athletes also possess great communication skills and superior eye-hand coordination and reflexes. Simply putting any person in the most advanced soccer chair doesn’t mean that the person automatically becomes a great power soccer athlete.

Becoming a great player in power soccer means spending countless hours of practice, honing and refining your skills. It means developing good chemistry with your teammates and a court awareness to ensure you’re performing at the highest level.

The wheelchair an athlete uses should only be viewed as a piece of equipment. If an athlete plays in the best wheelchair available, all it is doing is amplifying the skill level the athlete already possesses.

Sure, an athlete in a chair with a metal guard will be more powerful than an athlete in a chair with a plastic guard, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be more effective. If an athlete can’t effectively control the chair or possess the knowledge and awareness needed to play, they’ll be more of a liability than an asset.

In every sport, not just in power soccer, athletes use the best equipment possible to gain a competitive edge. But the equipment will never overshadow the talent of the athletes. Michael Jordan wasn’t the best basketball player just because he wore Nike shoes. Jerry Rice wasn’t the greatest receiver in the NFL just because he wore the best gloves. Hank Aaron wasn’t one of MLB’s greatest players because he used the best bat and ball. All of these players were great because of their immense talent and commitment to the sports they loved to play.

And power soccer athletes shouldn’t be judged any differently.

Electric wheelchairs are, and forever will be, an important part of power soccer. Technology will continue to improve and the sport will continue to evolve. But no matter how strong, fast and reactive the wheelchairs get, the heart of this sport will always lie in those who play it.

I will always be grateful to power soccer. The sport has rejuvenated my competitive spirit and allowed me to be an athlete in a whole new way.

For now, I will continue to practice and hone my skills. Hopefully by the time my playing days are over, I’ll be remembered among the power soccer greats.