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Exploring of the Impacts of Adaptive Fitness for Athletes with Disability.

In recent years, participation in elite and competitive fitness has become increasingly popular (Whiteman-Sandland, Hawkins, & Clayton, 2016). Individuals with disabilities have also responded in increasing their desire to find accessible means of athletic activity in the form of daily programs and competitions (Chockalingam, Thomas, & Duval, 2012). The Working Wounded Games (WWG) is an athletic competition, wherein individuals with physical impairments can compete in an adaptive fitness competition with and against other adaptive athletes. Research in adaptive sport has examined program participation feedback and perceived improvement on fitness, mood, and self-confidence in a sport-based therapeutic recreation program. One particular study demonstrated over 60% improvement in variables such as muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, balance, mood, and self-confidence; participants self-reported greater perceived benefits for variables of mood and self-confidence (Delaney, Crandell, & Barfield, 2014). Also, qualitative work has linked the impact of adaptive sport participation to perceptions of disability and normalization, sources of motivation through socialization and social connection, establishing a connection to previous interests, improved health/fitness/general well-being, improved sense of competence, and increased autonomy (Hawkins, Cory, & Crowe, 2011). Individuals participating in adaptive sport programs have been shown to benefit in numerous ways across domains such as physical functioning, cognition, affect, and social skills (Yazicioglu, et al., 2012; Zabriskie, et al., 2005).

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to understand the impacts of daily and competitive involvement in adaptive fitness for individuals with physical disabilities.

METHODS: Methods included semi-structured telephone interviews with 10 athletes who competed at the 2015 WWG (Creswell, 2013). Open and axial coding was used in data analysis, sorting pieces of transcript into meaning units based on the athletes' explanation of his or her experience; then these terms were combined into groupings of categories. These larger categories began to resemble developing themes (Merriam, 2009).

RESULTS: The athletes interviewed (n = 10) included nine males and one female, with various diagnosis of disability, and ranged in age of 21 to 45 years old. Preliminary findings from the data indicate elements of social comparison amongst athletes. This comparison portrays itself in examples of athletes describing the motivation they gained from seeing other athletes with disabilities who "have it worse off than them, and if they can do it, I can do it to, or should be able to push myself like that." Another theme includes giving back to adaptive athletic organizations in examples such as creating and working with nonprofit groups to provide resources for adaptive athletes to participate in fitness programs, as well as educational training for those working in a coaching capacity with them. The perceived body functioning improvements across physical, mental, and emotional domains represented another theme in this study, and are logical given the nature of the activities. A final emergent theme was the presence of environmental factors contributing to the enhancement of the athlete's social well-being in the form of a supportive and encouraging exclusive community of athletes with disabilities.

CONCLUSION: This research has produced a better understanding of the perceived changes and impacts that have resulted from participation in adaptive fitness. Generally, changes and impacts were positive. Practitioners can incorporate regular competitive adaptive fitness into a clients treatment plan. Practitioners can also support their involvement in the adaptive fitness programs by working alongside the coaches, trainers, and other allied health professionals to help create the most supportive and accessible environment by which the client can succeed and reach levels of functional improvement.


Chockalingam, N., Thomas, N. B., & Duval, L. (2012). Should preparation for elite sporting participation be included in the rehabilitation process of war-injured veterans? Prosthetics and Orthotics International, 36(3), 270-277.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Delaney, B., Crandell, D., & Barfield, J. P. (2014). Sport-based therapeutic recreation: Perceived outcomes and implications for research. PALAESTRA, 28(3), 12-16.

Hawkins, B. L., Cory, A. L., & Crowe, B. M. (2011). Effects of participation in a paralympic military sports camp on injured service members. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 45(4), 309-325.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Whiteman-Sandland, J., Hawkins, J., & Clayton, D. (2016). The role of social capital and community belongingness for exercise adherence: An exploratory study of the CrossFit gym model. Journal of Health Psychology.

Yazicioglu, K., Yavuz, R, Goktepe, A. S., & Tan, A. K. (2012). Influence of adapted sports on quality of life and life satisfaction in sport participants and non-sport participants with physical disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 5(4), 249-253.

Zabriskie, R. B., Lundberg, N. R, & Groff, D. G. (2005). Quality of life and identity: The benefits of a community-based therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports program. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 39(3), 176-191.

Spensir W. Mowery, M.S., CTRS, Clemson University, Clemson, SC

Jasmine Townsend, Ph.D., CTRS, Clemson University, Clemson, SC

Brent Hawkins, Ph.D., CTRS/L, Clemson University, Clemson, SC
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Author:Mowery, Spensir W.; Townsend, Jasmine; Hawkins, Brent
Publication:Annual in Therapeutic Recreation
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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