The 12 Best Sports for Wheelchair Users

The world of sports has become more accessible for people who use wheelchairs at professional and amateur levels. Profitable and widely watched competitions, like the Paralympics, feature professional athletes at the peak of performance. 

Here, we will go into detail about some of the best sports for wheelchair users. If you’re looking to try a new sport, and you’re currently in a wheelchair, we are sure that you can find something enticing on our list.

#1 Basketball

wheelchair basketball
Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair basketball is one of the most recognizable and widely played inclusive wheelchair sports. The game looks more or less like the standing version, with players shooting baskets on a standard ten-foot basketball hoop. 

The sport began in the 1940s to aid the rehabilitation of soldiers injured during the second world war. Since then, professional leagues have become established in Spain and Germany with a competitive collegiate circuit in the United States. 

Only a few rules are different from standard basketball. Of course, the traveling rule had to be changed, applying when a player touches their wheel twice instead of taking two steps. 

#2 Softball

softball
Softball

Wheelchair softball is certainly a more idyllic game than the previous on this list, but no less competitive. Check out this video for some interesting facts about the sport. 

Players play this game on a slightly smaller field than regular softball, and the entire playing surface is a hard material like cement. Teams of ten athletes compete, with a point system dictating how many players with different types of disabilities can be on a single team (and each team must have at least one quadriplegic playing for them). 

In the United States, the best teams compete each year for the World Series, which a team called the Nebraska Barons has a dynastic grip on. 

#3 Tennis

wheelchair tennis
Wheelchair Tennis

There are very few differences between wheelchair tennis and the standard version—visibly, they look almost the same. That’s large because wheelchair tennis uses a standard tennis court, the rackets are the same, and the nets are at the same level as normal.

This means that there are many facilities for disabled people to play—wherever there’s a tennis court. 

The only difference, rules-wise, is that the ball can bounce twice instead of just once. The second bounce can still be legal if it happens out of the lines so long as the first bounce was in play. 

You might not know that there are Grand Slams for wheelchair tennis. The tournaments take place at the same time as the Australian Open, French Open, US Open, and Wimbledon. 

#4 Rugby

wheelchair rugby
Wheelchair Rugby

Rugby is famous for being one of the roughest and toughest sports globally—the wheelchair version is no different. Indeed, its original name tells the whole story: Murderball. 

Wheelchair rugby involves two teams of four people, each trying to accomplish the simple task of getting the ball across the line to score a goal. Once your team has taken possession of the ball, you have 40 seconds to score or will turn over the ball. The opposing team will try to stop that from happening by ramming the attackers, stealing the ball from a player, or intercepting a pass. 

This is one of the full-contact wheelchair sports played by aggressive athletes, so make sure you’re ready for the challenge before giving it a try. 

#5 Table Tennis

wheelchair table tennis
Wheelchair Table Tennis

Many wheelchair users enjoy the game of table tennis as much as anyone else. Since it doesn’t require too much movement when compared to standard tennis, it’s a very accessible sport. This video has some tips on how to get set up. A good tip is tying the ping pong paddle to someone’s hand if they cannot grip it on their own.

Especially when playing at home, there aren’t any modifications to the game necessary. In competitive play, certain rules change according to the level of disability that the specific athletes have. In some classes, restrictions on service aren’t as strict. 

#6 Bowling

wheelchair bowling
National Police of Colombia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wheelchair bowling is a really fun form of sport that you can modify for people living with any disability. There are lots of bowling halls where those with disabilities can participate; a few might even have some of the necessary equipment for wheelchair bowling on hand. 

If someone still has full use of their arms but not their legs, they’ll likely be able to roll the ball like anyone else and won’t need any special equipment. But for those who can’t, there are two further options that one can choose. 

You could use a ball-pusher, which is something like a broom that can release the ball for you. There’s also a bowling ramp, which releases the ball at the top of a ramp at the push of a button. See one in use here

If you get really good and are in America, perhaps consider joining the American Wheelchair Bowling Association’s competitive league. 

#7 Wheelchair Racing

wheelchair racing
Wheelchair Racing

Using wheelchairs as racing vehicles is a simple yet fascinating idea. The best wheelchair racers in the world use specialized chairs that have three wheels, with the lead wheel over a meter in front of the racer. They reach astounding speeds of up to 36km per hour

The Paralympic games included wheelchair racing for the first time in 1964 when they took place in Tokyo. Since then, racing has been one of the most prestigious and sought-after medals at the games. 

Many local wheelchair racing clubs exist worldwide, so take a look on the internet to see if there are any in your town or city. 

#8 Skiing

skiing for wheelchair users
Wheelchair Skiing

Wheelchair skiing is one of the most popular winter sports for wheelchair users. There are a couple of different ways for those in wheelchairs to ski, depending on which functions they’ve lost. Some people use regular skis with ‘outriggers’ as poles, which have smaller skis on them that one can use for balance. 

The most common kind of skiing uses a sit-ski device, which is a chair over top of either one or two skis. The other equipment that one needs is a couple of outriggers to help with balance and steering—and a helmet, of course. Experienced skiers can shred it on these and even do backflips. 

There’s a competitive scene in alpine sports for people in wheelchairs. There’s a World Cup for the sport, and it’s a part of the winter Paralympics. 

#9 Water Skiing

water skiing
Water Skiing

If you’re more of a fan of sun and beaches than cold weather and mountains, you’ll be happy to know that you can also ski on water. Spending your free time towed by a speedboat is a thrilling hobby. 

There are specially designed adapted water skis for the sport. Most have a seat that’s positioned over a wide, almost surfboard-like ski that ensures stability across the entire ride. 

#10 Weightlifting

wheelchair weightlifting
Weightlifting for Wheelchair Users

Many people who are in wheelchairs love the gym and, yes, pumping iron. You can practice this sport on your own to stay fit and healthy or take part in competitions. 

The exact types of exercises and lifts that a wheelchair user can do, once again, depends on their disabilities, but everyone can find ones they can perform. 

Those who aren’t very comfortable with weights should consider working with a personal trainer, at least at the start, because of the risk of injury. With proper technique and precautions, however, there’s very little risk to amateur weightlifting. 

Powerlifting is the competitive discipline of this sport, and athletes compete to see who can bench press the most weight. For those interested in bodybuilding competitions rather than powerlifting, Wheelchair Bodybuilding (WCBB) is a not-for-profit that administers several competitions.

#11 Sailing

sailing
Sailing

There are opportunities for wheelchair users to participate in sailing both competitively and recreationally. If you’re planning on a leisurely day out on a large sailing boat or yacht, few safety precautions will be necessary except for brakes that have been checked and a lifejacket. 

More extreme sailing in rougher conditions does call for more specialized equipment, like harnesses and straps, to ensure the wheelchair stays in the vessel. There’s also a popular adaptive speed sailing scene, where sailors compete to see who can complete a route fastest. 

#12 Skydiving

skydiving with wheelchair user
Skydiving with Wheelchair User

Jumping out of the plane is one activity where all of us can feel adrenaline going through our veins. This experience will pull all kinds of emotions out of you while the blue sky is all you can see and fresh air all you can feel. Skydiving is an opportunity to move your borders and face your fears. 

Most wheelchair users choose to go tandem skydiving, attached to an instructor the whole way down for safety reasons. Check out some of the inspirational experiences and impressions that people in wheelchairs shared about skydiving here. Give it a try if you’re not scared of heights—or brave enough to go anyways.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this list of disabled sports and perhaps found a new hobby or even a serious competitive endeavor. Whatever the case, remember that a wheelchair is no barrier to getting the most out of the active side of life. Give it a try!

Cherry Yang

Cherry is the editor-in-chief of Mobility With Love. She obtained a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology and a master's degree in Adapted Physical Activity. Her expertise includes biomechanics, biochemistry, nutrition, disability studies, and so on.

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