wheelchair sports

The Need for Wheelchair Speed

If you can’t walk, speed. At least that’s my motto. Whether you’re a little kid who just got your first power chair, and you’re finding the thrill of zooming is indescribable, or if you’re an old lady like me who just needs to let off a little steam, the therapeutic nuances of driving ridiculously fast in your power chair can’t be beat. There’s nothing like burning a little rubber, feeling the wind in your face, and feeling unencumbered from your disability…at least for a little while. And the best part? No gas is required, so you can jet like a Ferrari and not pay through the nose.

I have always loved going fast in my powerchair. When I was hurt and in bed for a month straight, I was itching to move, to get up, be active, to see the hallway outside my room. So when PT finally brought up my power chair and got me in it, you can guess what the first thing was that I did: I ran it like a bat out of Hell down the hall, and was promptly yelled at. But my oh my – I can’t even tell you how amazing it felt; to finally be in control of something that would listen to me, and was strong and powerful, just like my old self.

Of course being chastised for driving too fast didn’t stop me. I was 14 and unable to walk. They should’ve given me a high-powered chair and set me free in the parking lot, that’s how fidgety I was, but nope, I had more important things to focus on like hitting balloons in the air and practicing my handwriting. Honestly, if they had really wanted to help me they should’ve put me in a racecar at some point in rehab for mental therapy, but the time was 1993 and the notion of getting newly injured people out of their element wasn’t as pushed.

And I’m not the only one who drives her powerchair like she’s in a rally race. I see my comrades in speed every day – downtown, at adapted yoga class, at Target – people in wheelchairs zipping along at a brisk jogging pace just because they can. And I love these people. It makes me feel less alone in my addiction, and less of a speed freak. There’s this one fellow in my yoga class who even drives faster than me. He’s suped up his power chair so it goes 8mph. THIS is fast in the powerchair world. My chair goes about 6mph, and people STILL say I’m going too fast.

Remember, there are times when speed is not a good idea: 1) In crowds and 2) If you’re hanging out with “walkers.” Your average everyday person does not see a powerchair, so when you’re going top-speed in public, you’ll scare people into thinking you may hit them. Don’t scare the ABs! And if you’re with a walking friend, be polite and slow down to their pace. It can be easy living in your speed-filled bubble, but slowing down to a walking pace is not only polite, it can help you see things from their perspective, which hey, is what life is all about.

What are your rules for speeding in your powerchair?

Photo courtesy of Percita Dittmar

1 reply
  1. Audacity
    Audacity says:

    I don’t use a powerchair, but I speed just the same in my manual chair. But regardless of how fast I’m going, one thing that always amuses me is the people who jump out of my way even though they are a good 20 feet away. Granted, I am a speedster (confirmed in a recent manual wheelchair study in which I participated: “your average speed is a bit higher than normal”) but I’m not THAT fast! :)

    I don’t see a lot wrong with going fast as long as you are in control and aware of your surroundings (ie. you are constantly prepared in case someone/something darts out in your path). I see it as compensating for the times when you are slower than the average able-bodied person, such as going up hills or when there are steps. An able-bodied friend and mine had a “race” once. We got to the finish line at the same time, but I had a much longer distance because our route involved steps and hills. My speed compensated for this inequality.

    I’m rambling now, but that’s how I see wheelchair speeding. :)

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