NOW, for the able bodied people who are thinking, “Okay, no panties, this isn’t for me, outta here!” please just please print it out and by now you MUST know someone with a chronic condition, so give it to them, to think about. Even a chronic pain condition.
First, why not promoting the boxing? I am beginning to realize that no sane person with a neuro condition takes up wheelchair boxing. Indeed the two able bodied coaches not only had that exact expression on their faces when I told them some of the down side (the 25-30 hours of pain, torn muscles, screaming), but said, “Why would you do that? When you could stop?” But, you know, for me, that’s what I do and that’s me.
Badminton is a whole OTHER type of sport where you get all the benefits of sports but really just SIT THERE.
All the time people are encouraging children and teens and girls and females to get into sports because of the team feeling, because of the confidence, because of the friendships, the association, the using mind and body together. But no one seems to be saying to chronic pain and neuro conditions and MND’s and a whole host of other conditions to try and find a sport (particluarly the females). So I am: Try and find a sport to participate in. I will try and convince you that badminton might be the one for you! Or if not that, how about ping pong?
What are the minimum requirements? I feel that if you can use built up utensils, you can hold a badminton racket (they are almost the same size…and grip). You need major arm function (like shoulder and elbow bending) and the ability to raise your arm over your head. And you need a wheelchair. I really recommend the wheelchair (but it is your choice). That’s about it. For example: while playing today I had virtually no small motor hand function at all. I could not catch the birdie, or sometimes pick it up, I had to use parts of my hands (like wrists or sides of hands) to bring it to my lap and then get two fingers to hold it, and let go when I wanted (for serving your doubles partner can hold and drop it on your command if this is an issue). I usually wrap my wrist to make sure I don’t sprain it (or have my PA wrap it). I grip the racket down my fingers using my thumb on top and squeeze (you could tape or use a wrap to hold it if you wanted) making a fist around it. Another woman today, who is a co-ordinator in badminton has a condition which causes her muscles to sprain so she had all sorts of devices supporting her arm and between matches (and points sometimes) she would go put more tape on her wrist or forearm to support it.
1) Get a wheelchair – a lot of people have conditions which do not absolutely require a wheelchair and so they don’t use one. There is a lot of mental junk about wheelchairs. But what I am saying is even if you have chronic pain or a type of back condition, badminton MAY be possible if you play in a wheelchair. Often the people who do not NEED to use a wheelchair also tend not to be in sporting activities, and usually not ones where they are treated equally. My feeling is that is a loss you don't have to have. So what if you can walk? Can you bend down or run and hit or squat for a low hit? No? Then use a wheelchair and leave those limitations behind.
So, instead of exhausting yourself standing or walking or trying lunges, get a wheelchair, borrow a wheelchair from a charity and come to a local badminton drop-in like the YMCA/YWCA or a rec center (after soccer/football, badminton is the second most popular sport in the world). While standing for 15 minutes might exhaust you, will sitting for 15 minutes and a couple time a minute moving your arm and making a little wrist movement tire you as much? No, I thought not. I will admit here, I don’t know how this will work for people with CFS/ME, Fibro/FMS, EDS, spine problems or like conditions but I would LOVE some feedback!
2) Find somewhere to play and see if they have rackets to borrow. Most places do. I have a little “rec. card” which allows my PA to join me at recreation centres for free like the Y and local centres. I pay $10 a month and play every Sunday, so that is $2.50 (actually Linda plays with me so that is $2.50 for both of us, an incentive for getting a friend to act as your PA). If you cannot afford it, see if there are any organizations who will pay for you or just tell the rec centre the truth: I have a disability that prohibits me from sports but I think I might be able to play badminton, can I try a few weeks for free and see if it works. Most rec centres usually have as a part of their organization that they exist so ALL members of the community may participate. That’s why I only pay $10 – I took in my disability and tax sheet for last year and got signed up as a “poor thing” – whatever! It gets me to play, that is what is important. Rackets are like $50 so you want to borrow FIRST.
3) Tell the coordinator you haven’t played and would like to practice warming up or practicing hits. Or print off this post and give it too him/her as well. The thing you need in a wheelchair is CONSISTANCY. You can’t step back and you certainly can’t go sideways so you need to know what your range of motion is and how to hit. For practicing, I find if you play on half of the singles line of the court, I find I can hit almost everything. So I spend some time every week practicing hitting back and forth usually with the director. My number one job as the person in the chair is to GET THE BIRDIE OVER THE NET. Let the AB people worry about smashes and drops and all that, just make it so you can hit one on the left, on the right, above you, and in front of you. And if you can't do those four, then know what you can do and what you can't so you can tell your partner when you play.
Now, I have delayed response in my neural pathways. Does not matter. This isn’t tennis. You have, on a high hit, about 2 or more seconds until that birdie comes to you, so if you know to think, “Hit now” and your arm finally twitches at the right time – all good. And because you are lower down, and sitting in the middle of the court, middle of the way back, you have even MORE time to see the birdie coming (when you miss just say, “Lost sight of it in the lights…”).
4) Play doubles – once you have warmed up and know you can hit the birdie and hit it 5 or 6 times in a row (try to just back and forth to 10 a few times) then ask to join a doubles game. Doubles is about mixing up strong and weak players and working with each other. Also unless you are an SCI or wildly athletic, how are you going to cover the whole court? You can’t. But in doubles you take your 35%-40% of the court that you can cover and let your partner cover the rest. This may seem like you aren't pulling full weight. Get over it; different people are paired in doubles so you will likely be facing a stronger and a weaker player. So you aren't the only one out there who is leaning on the stronger player: it is part of the game. Traditionally in mixed doubles the “ladies” play up a bit leaving the guys to run around the whole back and corners and for me, for now, this sexism works just fine!
5) How much effort is it really? Okay, I really recommend wrapping your hand and wrist in an athletic bandage the first several weeks because you can’t step back so if there is a high long hit you will drop your arm back and then flick the wrist (a quick trip to a sprain). If you have torso control, this will give you a lot more range as you can lean this way and that and even turn a bit and as the birdie goes over your head, face toward the back of the court and hit it BACKWARDS over your head (and towards the net). But if you don’t have a lot of torso control, you still have your reach. The basic shot is hitting the birdie in the middle of your racket with a flick of arm or wrist which will arc it high and over the net to your opponents. If it is to the side, just swipe at it like a tennis racket, if it is in front of you, just flip up like you are trying to flip pancakes. The less you push or flick, the less it goes, and if you let it hit almost dead, then it will tend to drop right over the net in a “drop” and everyone will think you are “Deadly” instead of “tired.” Want to know how much effort you need? Get someone to put the tip of a pen in your fingers (the majority of pen above your fingers) and sit about four feet from the wall. Now try to flick your arm or wrist or both to try and hit the wall with the pen. If you can do that, you can return a hit and be a player in badminton.
6) Use every aid at your disposal. You know your condition best and if you need to put a support or sling on your elbow so you don’t fully extend it or overextend it, then do it. If you need to take a break every five points, tell people. Even in a game they can always do a bit of two on one until you are ready to go again. Most drop ins have a mix of good and beginning players and they recognize that you don’t know the game. Ask and they will tell you the rules (serve underhand, which lines for singles and doubles play, serve to opposite court), and just tell them what your limits are. Another reason I wrap my wrist is to stop arm spasms from affecting me too badly, as it is somewhat embarrassing to be ready to serve and suddenly hit the birdie 90 degree from the court. I tied down my legs for the same reason.
7) Playing in a wheelchair. Okay, I think if you are going to play in a powerchair you should probably stick to a few partners and tell them where you are likely to go. Yes, while you may be hot stuff in the chair, running over your partner while they are trying to cover you in case you miss the shot is not considered nice. First few weeks I sat on my side, a foot or so behind the serve line and covered that section and my partner covered the rest. I could not get drop shots right at the net. I could not get the shots in the corner but the rest of hits that came near me I could hit. My job first was to hit it back. Get it over the net, be consistent.
Let your partner do the smashes and stuff, just get that sucker back over the net. And when you swing and miss….remember, “I lost it in the lights.”
As you get more confident you might want to move to the centre just ahead of the service line (as the rackets are small, I can wheel with the sides of my hands to there). I go after a few hits when the opposition has done a long hit which my partner will return (giving me those 2 seconds to get into position and 2 seconds more as they hit the return), and when I get there I call out, “I’m in!” so he/she knows what they need to cover. Why this spot? Because you stick up your racket and if they try to drop anything over the net, you will hit it back, if they hit towards you, you are close enough to the net to give them a “smash” or a higher speed return. This forces your opponents to either hit to you and HOPE you miss or instead make long high hits which go over your head, but which give your partner plenty of time to hit back and do “smashes” and “drops” and whatever they want to do. But talk it over with your partner on what they want. Some partners will be wishy washy and this will be annoying. In these instances just keep saying, “It is just a game.”
8) Communication on court. Because able bodied people don’t play with people in chairs that often (or EVER) they are not used to how you return or how much area you can cover. This includes your partner. So calling, “Mine” or “Yours” as soon as you see this is out of your reach is important. Often a good partner will back you up so if you miss a birdie going over your head, they will hit it back. That’s also why it is important to let them know when you are changing position. But it also means that your partner may be a little surprised when you hit a backhand at far reach (and surprise the opponents too). You may get points at the beginning because your opponents have no clue what your range of motion is (and you hit it back and they just stand there staring at you).
9) The back court flick. This is something the director made me work on for the first two weeks and it is how I get the majority of my points. He kept asking, can you flick hard enough to send the birdie arcing all the way to the back two lines? So we practiced and practiced until I could and today, I got about 8 points simply by hitting it over the heads of people who thought, “Oh, girl in wheelchair, move up closer”, kind of made up for all those junior high softball days when the pitcher called the outfield in whenever I came up to bat. Also, just a tip, in serving, often turning the chair will place the birdie more accurately in the corner you want. For the flick you can use the three lower fingers, the wrist, the follow through or any combo that works for you.
10) Stop before you think you need to. Okay, you have adreneline and you feel good and you played some doubles and you think you could do another game. Be smart, listen to your PA (Don’t be like me!), and thank everyone and tell them you will see them next week. Find out how this will effect your body and give the people your best game – it is a win/win. The whole group setting and the team play can be VERY addicting but seriously, work into it slowly. You don’t want to find out you can’t move your arm the next day if you use a wheelchair for a lot of your movement. Also, you may notice that your partner is dripping sweat and you, besides your arm are feeling quite rested – THAT IS THE POINT! Don’t get guilty, just say, “I like this badminton.”
So, that’s it. It is up to you to find a rec centre and give it a go. You can see where my chair is in the pic, I would be maybe a foot further back to start. Linda played “a little” in junior high and she is doing great (so great she has no time to take photos of me). For me, there is nothing like that feeling of being part of a group, particularly if you spend a lot of time at home, not able to go out much. And to find a sport where you SIT THERE and spend the energy to flick a few pens at the wall and have your partner say, “Great job” or “Good hit” or “Nice save”. So yeah, I’m not able bodied anymore, but I’m part of a ‘team’ and I do contribute, even if some points it is just being ‘the threat at the net’ and they just keep lobbing over me. Contributing and being part of a team and playing a sport feels pretty good (unless you ignore number 10 and regret it a few hours later.) Give it a try!