Sports and disability (circular approach) [how to start and get better at sports considering below the elbow amputation]
It would be a miracle, or a wonder, if I would just be able to *blam* do any type of sport that I would think up. Or you. Or anyone else, as a matter of fact.
No, really, the correct approach to doing sports and being able to enjoy it is different.
One has to approach things carefully and with very open eyes. One has to do that at any level! You do not want silly accidents, disappointments or set backs that are major. You just want to glide in and slowly get better. And no drastic situations, break downs or damages.
There is probably a method to that.
I tend to favor a circular approach.
Doing sports as a right below the elbow amputee - with or without usage of a prosthetic arm - is not fundamentally different, but the handicap somewhat accentuates the importance of having an approach, or, going at things with alertness and the brain switched on.
- Test, trial: I start with trying something.
- Monitor: I pay attention.
- Ratings: I apply ratings to see what matters and what does not.
- Improvements: I then try to provide improvements.
I usually start by conducting a first time ever sports test, or a test ride, or tryout. I just play along, but I am at the same time very careful and attentive.
Of course, first trials always start by being somewhat off. A first swim competition once had me start with boxer shorts instead of wearing tight race jammers. A first bike ride may have you without proper gloves or with maladjusted bike brakes.
Later (this being a "circular" model) one comes back to the next "trial" - be it a training run, a ride into the deep snow, be it a race or competition. Precautions always apply. Always be aware of the degree of your amateur status! This cannot be overstated.
When doing a first ride with spike tires riding my mountain bike in deep winter, I had to find a new type of balance. Riding in deep watery snow, going over clear ice, going over snow covered trees and branches with spikes gripping very hard was "new" to me. So, I felt like I was new to that, despite not being new to bike riding as such.
Obviously I took it a bit slow.
Later I turned it up a bit.
Be very aware, that if you exceed your "own speed limit", you are likely to cause damage.
So I have to be very attentive. Always. But why.
I have to be attentive because I monitor everything.
This includes careful checks of technical equipment including my prosthesis, the stump, the rest of my body, the whole situation and environment, I certainly will critically evaluate my general fitness and see how my sport specific skills - swim stroke, bike technique, etc. - are.
Among that, I take notion of my posture, of coldness on the stump, on specific possible injury causes, of the status of technical parts - is the prosthetic wrist firm, is the chain on the bike running smooth; in water and when swimming, there are so many things to check and look out for, like, position in the water, stroke, angles, relative speeds, temporal coordination et cetera.
I would carefully monitor the appearance and pain levels of my stump when riding my bike or when skiing. The stump eventually turns blue or purple when it stops being happy. Too much vibration would cause my circulation to become less, and the stump would start to really hurt at the tip, where the bones are edgy. Or, when swimming, I often times sliced up and lacerated the stump against one of these lane lines; these contain very sharp plastic disc edges, and they are a significant risk. So, monitoring wound depth and considering the need for disinfection would be a constant part of evaluation when swimming on with a lacerated stump. More than once, I stopped training and went to tend after the wound. Later I worked on not getting the arm damaged just that many times.
These are relevant to monitor very actively, but to look for subtleties, too.
When riding bike, stump and prosthetic fit, interplay and resulting issues obviously are a major aspect of riding. Just as brake performance for emergency or steep downhill stops is a survival aspect, or, wearing a helmet and making sure it has a tight fit. If the brakes start to make noises, if the tires start to slip for any reason, or if the gear shift starts to rattle, I will take note and remember.
As a next step, I would go for specific improvements.
Whatever it was that did not work, or cause any type of concern, will get looked at and there are consequences.
If a long term problem remains significant, the whole activity is prioritized downwards. Actually for years, my stump would suffer from bicycle riding related vibrations a lot. It would start hurting after riding on rough terrain for 15 minutes or more. Any quick fix trying to dampen the grip using bandage, sponge or rubber type material was not successful at first. I started to use silicone caps and these helped a little bit, but not greatly. That lead to me making bike rides a very low priority. When later I happened upon a Mert hand, that provided the much needed relief and was quite a game changer. Then, bike riding became more of a priority again.
When skiing, I found my stump gets frost bite real fast. So a friend told me about skiing boots' heating elements. I bought some and cut these up. So I had a prosthetic arm heating. That solved that problem. I still had problems with the poles, and try to get that fixed this year.
I also see whether my general fitness needs improvement. So if yes, it is a consequence that I train for general fitness besides all other things.
Then I check whether any sports specific skills leave to be desired. Might well be! So I try to learn, take lessons or get tips, read up on the internet, and get better. A lot of learning and practicing goes into this.
Then it might be time again, to do a test / trial.
Any applied sports should be run under the title of a "test / trial".
I also attend competitions with that mindset. Have someone watch my start,breakout, race, turns and finish, when swimming. Then back to the bench when at home. Going consequently after performance aspects is absolute key to both injury prevention and performance improvement.
These are also related: the less injuries I contract, the less down time I have, the less function I lose, the more continuous and incremental training I can apply - logical. Foreseeing and carefully checking, continuosly, always intervening early in the process of any problem, is totally important.
The truth is out there, however, on the track, in the water, not on any computer screen or so.
I would do a range of test rides on slow sunny hot cow meadows, improving my bike setup, going at failure and problem testing quite systematically, and increasing the fitness training as well, before nailing the Stelvio Pass, for example.
Or flippering through the Mediterranean. A first time I swam a 200m butterfly event, I took preparations extremely serious. I did test runs. I read up. I tried to troubleshoot the thing. Matter of fact, this distance still provides everyday challenges.