Exercise is especially important for paraplegics because they can no longer use their best aerobic equipment - their legs. That's one of the reasons I use a racing wheelchair. A marathon in a racing wheelchair really gives my heart the aerobic workout it needs. It keeps my weight down and my arm strength up for the extra work they now have to do. I also lift weights. In my spare time I work at a regular job and go to college. I graduate this spring. (2003) In the following pictures I have tried to give you an idea of how one type of racing wheelchair works.
I thought I would start off by showing you my racing wheelchair in motion. I'm going about thirteen miles per hour here and the photo is slightly blurred because of the motion. I'm also set to go around a sharp corner, so I am steering - not pushing!
A battery powered tire pump is a great convenience. Tire pressure needs to be checked frequently and the battery powered tire pump makes it easy to add air as needed.
You can use regular bicycle wheels if you want. The push rims are attached directly to the spokes, so the spokes need to be adjusted almost daily. This takes a lot of time and effort, so I don't use regular wheels.
I use carbon fiber tires. They cost around $1500 new. I was lucky and found some used ones for $450. Since the spokes are much sturdier, they don't get out of adjustment like regular spokes. The body of the racer comes without wheels and costs anywhere from one to three thousand dollars. Sometimes you can find a used racing wheelchair for a lot less.
There is a small front brake which you can use to make skid marks on the pavement, but it doesn't stop the wheelchair quickly. You don't usually want to slow down in a racing wheelchair anyway so it doesn't matter much. You can see the Cateye Solar wireless computer that tells me my speed, mileage, and other data. It uses a magnetic pickup that wirelessly sends information from the front wheel to the computer.
This is a closeup of the computer itself. It uses a battery, but also has a solar cell that extends the life of the battery.
To get into the racing wheelchair I tip it almost upright and put my feet into a nylon foot rest. My knees will rest in the top part of the holder and my chest will rest on my knees.
When my feet are in the right position I lean forward and the racing wheelchair tips down into its normal position.
There is a Velcro strap that goes across my back. This keeps me from accidentally popping out of position.
Pushing puts a considerable strain on my wrists, so I wrap them with tape.
All racers wear special gloves. They cost around $50.00. The center "finger" holds three fingers and has a Velcro strap at the end. The glove has a very hard surface under your thumb and on the top of the middle fingers. That hard surface is what will make contact with the push rim.
When you close your fist, the Velcro strap is wrapped around the base of your thumb and back around your wrist.
To move the racing wheelchair you press your glove against the push rim which is an aluminum tube covered with a small tire glued to the rim. Your thumb presses against the rim almost at the top. It keeps pressing against the rim pushing down and around the rim, almost making a complete circle. The more constant pressure you can exert on the rim, the more power you can transfer to the wheel.
Here you see my arm at the bottom of the rim. The glove stays in contact with that rim as long as possible.
Unlike regular bicycles, racing wheelchairs do not have gears. That means that it is very difficult to go up steep hills. Some hills are so steep you cannot exert enough pressure on the push rim to get up the hill. In these cases, you turn around and go up the hill backward pulling up on the tire itself - not the push rim. It may seem awkward, but sometimes it is the fastest way to go up a steep hill!
It isn't the strongest person who wins a race, it is the person who last the longest. Racing wheelchairs is an long endurance contest. You may not be the strongest person on the race course, but if you can keep pushing for long periods, you may just find yourself in first place.
I've only told you a tiny bit about racing wheelchairs. There are many different kinds of racing wheelchairs. The best way to start is to find another person who races and find what they know. If you can, find a buddy so you can work out together. Contact any of the racing wheelchair retailers. They will be glad to help get you started. I hope to see you racing soon!