Spinal Cord Injury Barely Slowed These Gymnasts, Skiers and Bowlers

Spinal cord injury and the resulting paralysis is devastating for anyone, but for an athlete who has suddenly lost the chance to compete on top of losing mobility, the injury can be especially traumatic. But this week’s Friday good news comes from the world of sports, where athletes around the United States and the world have overcome devastating spinal cord injuries all for the love of sports.

In 1993, Brian Sheridan was a promising 18-year-old gymnast. But he thought that had all ended when he broke his neck while practicing back flips at a gymnastic club. But after recovering enough to get married and get a college degree, Sheridan realized there was still one large piece missing from his life – his love of sports. So Sheridan, who received his degree in occupational therapy with a minor in psychology, founded Michigan Sports Unlimited.

Michigan Sports Unlimited offers a number of clinics in sports such as basketball, handball and quad rugby (sometimes known as Murderball.) He has also recently completed a case study using a new treatment technique called “whole body vibration.” When used on people with underused or atrophied muscles, whole body vibration was shown to stimulate muscles, improve strength and toning, reduce cellulite, improve body density and cause the body to release the healthy hormones often associated with exercise.

“There is no cure. Recovery needs to be comprehensive — mind, body and spirit,” said Sheridan.

Sheridan shares a love of sports with Keith Buckman, a Maryland native who was left severely injured after surviving a suicide bombing in Iraq’s Anbar province. Buckman, who barely survived the incident and had to relearn to walk, never thought that, just a year later, he would be training for 2010 Paralympic Games.

Buckman is just one of many disabled soldiers and veterans around the country whose love of sports has translated to a shot at some high level coaching for the Paralympic Games. A foundation, sponsored by various entities and the U.S. Olympic Committee, recruited Buckman and many other promising athletes from the armed services. The Paralympics, while held at the same time and place as the Olympic Games, usually does not attract many service people.

Said Buckman, "Doing sports makes me feel normal again.”

The Chicago camp that Buckman attended does not only cater to promising athletes with spinal cord injuries. Programs also train athletes who have previously suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and visual impairment. The most promising athletes are chosen to receive high level training for Paralympic Competitions. Buckman is hoping for a berth in “mono-skiing” at the 2010 Games and a spot on a wheelchair basketball team in the 2012 Games.

And if you thought that basketball, rugby and skiing were the only sports open to people suffering from paralysis, you haven’t seen anything yet. Thirty-two-year-old Bill Miller is paralyzed from the neck down, but he hasn’t let that detail stop him from participating in his favorite sport – bowling. To accomplish this feat, he and engineer Claude Giguere invented a device called the IKAN Bowler. The IKAN Bowler is a ramp that fits on a wheelchair and allows the bowler to send a ball down a lane.

Miller now trains other injured and disabled would-be bowlers. He told the Orlando Sentinel that the trick is to shift in the chair with just the right timing and force to send the ball down the lane where you want it to go.

"Getting inside a bowling alley is a whole lot more fun," Miller said. "I can bowl with able-bodied bowlers or bowlers in a wheelchair."

When it occurs, a spinal cord injury or other debilitating can seem like the end of the world. The stories of these three pioneers prove that life can and does go on.