Asian Athletes Rock the 2011 Boccia World Cup


The gold medal winning South Korean team, courtesy of University of Ulster News.

On its face, boccia can seem like a straightforward sport. The events at last week’s Boccia World Cup in Northern Ireland, however, showed how mistaken this assumption is. Asian athletes brought a whole new style of play to the tournament and were handsomely rewarded with a serious collection of podium hardware. The BC1 and BC3 divisions were dominated by competitors from Asia, especially by a South Korean team that took home the gold in BC1, swept the BC3, and claimed the overall team gold. David Smith, a member of the British squad and 4th place finisher in BC1, explained the differences in technique to Paralympic.org: “The Asians play a very different style,” he said. “They have a more open and aggressive style, taking the jack much higher up the court.” Portugal and Brazil also had solid showings, taking home several medals apiece in the BC2 and BC4 classes. You can view the complete results on the Sports Ulster website.

BlazeSports is the governing body of USA Boccia, and while the American team failed to claim any medals at this World Cup, we are extremely proud of our squad. The competition in Northern Ireland has only whetted our appetite for some more hardcore boccia action in London next year at the Paralympic Games.

For more info on BlazeSports boccia, check out the boccia section of our site!

Posted in Blog, Boccia |

One Year Till London, Pistorius Flies High Even in Defeat


Oscar Pistorius, courtesy of the AP.

One year from today, the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games will kick off in London. It is fitting, then, that double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius gave us a preview of the kind of eye-popping performances the Games are sure to provide.

Representing South Africa, Pistorius is the first double-amputee runner to compete in an able-bodied world championship, held this year in Daegu, South Korea. Pistorius met his goal of  qualifying for the semifinal race in the 400 meters, but fell short of making the finals. His time in the semis was a full 0.8 seconds off his qualifying time a day earlier, but Pistorius was still in good spirits when he spoke to the AP. “I would have liked to perform better tonight,” he said. “My goal was to make the semifinal and I did it. … Even if I would have ran faster tonight, I wouldn’t have made the final. It was a great opportunity and I’ve learned a lot from the experience.”

Pistorius has had to overcome a lot to get to this point, including a recently overturned ban from the IAAF. The governing body of track and field ruled that his prostheses gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied sprinters. Fortunately, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled otherwise, allowing him to compete in Daegu.  He is expected to run on the South African 4×400 meter relay team later this week.

Great job and good luck, Oscar! We’re hoping to see you competing in London one year from now in the Paralympics and the Olympics.

Posted in Blog |

Mayor Emanuel Reaching Out to Chicago’s Disability Community

Earlier today ABC7 Chicago filed a report on how the mayorality of Rahm Emanuel has impacted the disability community in Chicago. Based on the judgments of ABC7 reporter Karen Meyer and Karen Tamley, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, it appears that Emanuel is following the course set by former Mayor Richard Daley to make Chicago “the most accessible city in the world.” Since 2007, the city has created more than 30,000 new curb cuts across the city to help Chicagoans with disabilities get around. Further, the HomeMod program continues to provide grants of up to $10,000 to eligible residents to make their homes accessible. Demand is outstripping the available funds for this worthy program, so hopefully community pressure will help ensure that Mr. Emanuel allocates the money necessary to widen HomeMod’s reach.

Relatedly, it’s great to see ABC7 putting a journalist with a disability on air. Karen Meyer has a hearing impairment and also one heck of a resume. There are too few persons with disabilities in television news, so props to ABC7 so breaking the mold. I’m not sure if they have Ms. Meyer on air only to speak to disability issues, but let’s hope that in the near future we’ll see a bit more of her or other pioneering reporters covering stories that both do and don’t relate explicitly to disability.

Posted in Blog |

Collin Lancaster – BlazeSports Athlete of the Month

In an effort to highlight young, up-and-coming athletes with disabilities, we are proud to introduce our Athlete of the Month series. Each month, we will profile a different member of the BlazeSports network.

At just seven years of age, Collin Lancaster is already showing the versatility of a veteran athlete. Collin competes with the Georgia Blazers basketball and track and field teams, and is practicing with the swim team, as well. Though he enjoys all of these sports, Collin says basketball is his favorite. “You never know what you’re going to do or what’s going to happen,” he told me in a phone interview yesterday. “And all of my teammates are really good.”

Last month, Collin made a very successful appearance at the 2011 National Junior Disability Championships in Saginaw, Michigan. Coaches report that he is a gifted racer, but Collin expressed a preference for the field events like discus, shot put, and javelin. And this kid knows his stuff. He engaged me in a discussion of how the rules for measuring javelin throws varies between meets and how he preferred the method used at Junior Nationals (measuring from the middle of the javelin).

I predict that Collin will be an athlete to watch in the years to come. His dedication to sport is clear. When asked about his hobbies outside of BlazeSports, he immediately cited shooting hoops at home as a favorite pastime. With this kind of determination, Mr. Lancaster’s star is surely on the rise.

Congratulations Collin, our August 2011 Athlete of the Month!

Posted in Blog |

Vanderbilt Develops “Bionic” Leg Prosthesis

A few decades ago, wood was still the material de riguer for prosthetic limbs. Think about that for a minute, then watch this video and marvel over how far we’ve come.

Researchers at the Vanderbilt Center for Intelligent Mechatronics (am I the only one who thinks Mechatron sounds like the name of a Transformers character?) have developed a “bionic” prosthesis that weighs less than a natural leg and requires 30-40% less energy than a conventional artificial legs. Research News @Vanderbilt reports:

The device uses the latest advances in computer, sensor, electric motor and battery technology to give it bionic capabilities: It is the first prosthetic with powered knee and ankle joints that operate in unison. It comes equipped with sensors that monitor its user’s motion. It has microprocessors programmed to use this data to predict what the person is trying to do and operate the device in ways that facilitate these movements.

This is an incredible piece of machinery. It even features an “anti-stumble routine” that senses if its owner is starting to stumble, at which point it raises itself up to clear whatever obstacle is in its path and then plants itself onto the floor to prevent a fall. It’s like something out of science fiction. We tip our hats to you, Vanderbilt!

Posted in Blog |

Peter Pan Bus Lines Employs Some Serious Jerks, Might Violate ADA


Thanks to Listen Up! for this very appropriate graphic.

On their way to Falmouth Road Race this past weekend, four wheelchair athletes reported separate incidents of discrimination and mistreatment from Peter Pan Bus Lines employees. Michael Mills, one of the athletes in question, arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston to find that his bus lacked a wheelchair ramp despite the fact that he had honored company policy by calling days in advance to request one. This would have been irritating enough, but the driver’s response was positively disgusting. Mills tells the Cape Cod Times, “He said, ‘Can you walk?’ and I said, ‘No.’ And then he said, ‘If you can’t walk, you can’t get on my bus.'” The driver slammed the bus door in Mills’ face and drove off.

Chad Johnson had to deal with damage to his chair and bigoted words from a driver. Again from the Times:

Johnson boarded his bus at about 5 p.m. Saturday, he said. As the driver loaded his racing chair, Johnson said he asked the driver to place it upside down to maximize space and protect his wheels.

The driver ignored his request, Johnson said, and when he got his chair back one wheel was punctured and a fender was cracked.

Johnson pointed out the damage to the driver and told him that was the reason he requested the chair packed a certain way, he said.

The driver responded by saying something along the lines of: “This bus is for passengers and luggage, and not for you people and whatever that is,” gesturing to the race chair, Johnson said.

Two other athletes have reported similar treatment. Though Peter Pan’s VP of transportation reports that they are investigating the complaints, other company officials are focusing their energies on denying allegations in spite of their being four separate instances of awful behavior. “The way this man said the driver yelled at him, that’s not true,” said Tony Andrade, Peter Pan’s director of operations for the route in question. “We don’t train our drivers that way.” Andrade claims the driver who Johnson dealt with denied the allegations. (Perhaps he is unfamiliar with the concept of people lying to cover their own rear ends?) A word to the wise, Tony. This is where you apologize, not where you double down.

The four athletes are currently considering legal action over potential ADA violations. Good for them. This kind of discrimination is completely unacceptable. Until Peter Pan offers a satisfactory explanation for these incidents, you’re not going to catch me on one of their buses. If you’re as disgusted as I am, let Peter Pan know it. Send them a tweet @PeterPanBus or send an email to customerservice@peterpanbus.com. Let’s make sure they live up to their own self-declared standards, not to mention the law.

Posted in Blog |

Gambian Non-Profit Advocates for Self-Determination of People with Disabilities


Flag of Gambia.

Gambia is a tiny sliver of a country on the west coast of Africa, but some of its citizens are taking a big stand for disability rights. All Africa reports that Ebrima Danjo, CEO of Aid For Orphans and the Disabled (AFOD), is publicly advocating for the rights of people with disabilities to make decisions regarding their own lives. Danjo says, “At home persons with disability have often been sidelined even on issues affecting them. AFOD rejects this as a non starter.”

Misperceptions about disability are all too common even in developed countries like the United States. In less developed countries like Gambia, this problem is still more pronounced. With fewer opportunities to make a living and a lack of accessible infrastructure, many Gambians with disabilities must resort to begging. Danjo points to this practice as reaffirming stereotypes that tar the demographic as incapable and objects of pity.

In order to break this cycle, AFOD sponsors scholarships for young people with disabilities. They have sponsored 14 students, some of which now have jobs. Further, 20 girls have been trained in skills like sewing and tie dying and are now earning an income. This is the sort of program that is needed in less developed countries. Handouts won’t help Gambians with disabilities over the long haul. Education, the skills to earn a living–these things provide both material support and a sense of agency and purpose. We wish AFOD luck, and hope that they will continue to able to expand their work in West Africa.

Posted in Blog |