Handcycles let spinal cord injury victims compete in marathons

The Pittsburgh Marathon took place a few weeks back. Racers and spectators may have noticed that not every participant was on foot. Some people, likely with spinal cord injuries, were using handcycles to compete.

The human spine can be damaged in many incidents. Here in Pittsburgh, perhaps the most likely causes include auto accidents and workplace disasters. For those in the military, injuries in war zones can lead to a lifetime of partial or total paralysis.

No matter how a person’s spine got damaged, the results can be highly disabling. Besides the effect being paralyzed can have on your career, your life will almost certainly be profoundly changed. Physical activities you took for granted before the injury may still be possible, though in different ways than before.

For instance, running in a marathon will probably no longer be possible after a spinal cord injury. But handcycles allow those with some use of their arms to experience the challenge and thrill of racing in a new way.

The Pittsburgh Marathon allows handcycling, making it an attractive option for disabled athletes. A group called the Paralyzed Veterans of America Racing Team was to be among the competitors, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

One of the team members was on his third tour of duty of the Afghanistan War when he was hit by shrapnel in a mortar attack. He spent two and a half years in the hospital, and now has severely limited mobility, though he is able to walk. He said used a handcycle as part of his rehabilitation, and found the physical effort was similar to running.

People can be remarkably adaptive after a severely disabling injury. But there is no denying that a spinal cord injury can be very debilitating, and when someone is paralyzed due to another party’s negligence, the negligent party should compensate the victim.