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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Vikings on Wheels brings together communities

Athletes of all abilities formed eight teams and played matches Saturday afternoon. // Photo by Kevin Lake

By Colton Redtfeldt

As eight teams of wheelchair-mounted people rolled around Wade King Student Recreation Center on a Saturday afternoon, two worlds came together.

Over 32 Western students, staff and community members participated in Vikings on Wheels, Western’s first wheelchair basketball tournament on April 14.

The event allowed athletes of all levels and capabilities to play on the same field, an aspect that was warmly welcomed by all participants.

Freshman Xiang Qin Nagle-Christensen has been playing adaptive basketball for five years after going to a summer camp for children with physical disabilities.

“I think it’s great,” Nagle-Christensen said. “It involves abled-bodied people getting down in a chair and experiencing what I experience every day of my life. I think that I can get a better understanding of them just as they can get a better understanding of me.”

Sophomore Sophie Carlson said she gained a new appreciation for the sport and the people who play.

“It’s cool to see how being disabled doesn’t hinder people in this sport,” Carlson said. “After a while, you forget that people have a disability. You just don’t see it anymore.”

Carlson wasn’t the only one to get a new perspective. Senior Jens Schwan, a member of Nagle-Christensen’s team, said he got a small insight into the lives of people who are dependent on a wheelchair.

Nagle-Christensen said adaptive sports have helped her learn to accept her disability as a part of her life.

“Before then I felt really alone with my disability,” she said. “Adaptive sports have allowed me to find a family I really relate to.”

When she got to Western, she wanted to bring basketball with her but found few resources for adaptive sports on campus.

Nagle-Christensen registered for the event as a free agent and was paired with people she did not know. At first, she said, her team wasn’t sure what to do.

With her past experience in wheelchair basketball, Nagle-Christensen quickly took on the role of a coach. Her team lost their first two rounds, but after learning more about the game, they won the last.

“The first two rounds were warmups. The last game was the real one,” Nagle-Christensen said.

Eight teams of four people filled the event’s roster. Each team played three 20-minute games. The two teams that did the best overall advanced to the championship round.

Wheelchair basketball is played similarly to how traditional basketball is played, with some small rule changes regarding dribbling.

Like Nagle-Christensen, sophomore Maggie Mittelstaedt was introduced to adaptive basketball through a summer camp. Mittelstaedt, who has cerebral palsy, played wheelchair basketball through high school.

After graduating high school, surgeries kept Mittelstaedt from attending college right away. As she recovered from those surgeries, she played for the University of Arizona’s adaptive basketball team as a fly-in for a year. She later came to Western to study behavioral neuroscience.

Members of Western’s disabled community saw the event as the start of something bigger. When Mittelstaedt learned Western was hosting a wheelchair basketball tournament, she knew she had to play.

“I think it’s really cool that the university saw that we had an interest in getting more adaptive sports here,” Mittelstaedt said. “It lets people who are able-bodied get a window into the disability community and get exposed to people of all different abilities.”

Senior Zak Meyer was one of the organizers of the event. He has been playing adaptive sports for 12 years. He said he hopes the event will get people talking.

“You get everyone talking. Then soon small events like this transform into bigger ones,” Meyer said.

Kip Leonetti, administrative assistant for the Campus Recreation Department, said revenue from the event will go toward promoting more adaptive sports opportunities at Western like goalball, a team sport for visually impaired players that uses a ball with a bell embedded in it, and innertube water polo.

As part of the event, the rec center brought in a new adaptive machine. Ron Arnold, rec center fitness coordinator, said the machine would make it easier for people with disabilities to exercise.

“I think we need more opportunities for people with disabilities to play and participate in sports,” Mittelstaedt said. “I think this is just the beginning. I’m hoping that this event will open more doors and opportunities.”

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