As some of you might be aware, I spent last weekend at a national power wheelchair soccer tournament near Indianapolis, Indiana. While my team did not quite have the success we were looking for, this is the fifth time my team has made the journey to nationals, and I was reflecting a little bit on this entire experience, so I figured I would write it out for you all week.
I started playing power soccer during the spring of my freshman year in college. I was sitting at Ben & Jerry’s (what else do you eat in Vermont?), and a man came up to me to tell me about a new team that was forming in Burlington. I was naturally interested given my passion for sports, but I didn’t really know what to make of this particular sport.
In my experience, adaptive sports tended to be kind of like watered-down able-bodied sports. I imagined one of those oft-parodied sports where everyone gets a trophy no matter what. I am far too competitive for that type of system.
Consequently, I didn’t know what I was necessarily getting myself into, but I decided to attend practice the following Saturday. I didn’t really have any equipment, and I didn’t even know what the equipment was beyond what I saw on a few videos I watched on YouTube, so I went in largely blind. I figured I would give it a try for one week, and if I didn’t like it, there was obviously no obligation to ever return.
Upon entering the gym, one thing certainly struck me as odd. It was strange to be in a gym with several other individuals in power wheelchairs. I live in a rural town. In my lifetime, I do not believe there has ever been another power wheelchair user at our public school. During my time in high school in a slightly larger town of approximately 8000 people, I was the only power wheelchair user there for those four years. Even when I went to doctor’s appointments, maybe I sat in the waiting room with another power wheelchair user, but that is clearly a different kind of situation than what I was presented with in this gymnasium.
I found myself in a gym with power wheelchair users who were brought together to share an experience with me. We did not coincidentally happen to be in the same place at the same time like a doctor’s office. Instead, we were brought together to play a sport as a unit. We were brought together to work for a common purpose. I still didn’t really know what type of sport I was getting myself into on the first encounter, but simply the experience of having several people together in diverse yet comparable situations who were brought together for a purpose was the first thing that stood out to me about power soccer.
I have recently written about the power and importance of community, and that is one thing that drew me the first time I attended power soccer. Just like any other sports team, we were there for a purpose, and to the credit of my teammates, I discovered we were all there to win. My fears about moving into a sport where you receive a trophy just for showing up were unfounded. I found a group of individuals who immediately wanted to learn about the sport and become as good as we were capable of becoming. This made me want to come back for a second, third and hundreds more practices. That is why I still go back today.
Photo credit to my friend Ashley!