"I found it was something I could do on my own but still be part of a team.”
On Jan. 26, the public had the opportunity to try wheelchair racing at the Regina Field House, to help with the effort of forming a club in Regina and expanding the sport throughout the province. Participants received instruction, tried out equipment and met other racers.
Wheelchair racing involves the racing of wheelchairs on tracks and in road races. A specialized wheelchair is used, with two larger wheels connected to the athlete’s chair and a smaller one sticking out the front. Athletes use specialized racing gloves and, using a fist stroke, hit the rims of the two wheels to propel the chair around the track.
Like track and field, there are numerous distances athletes can compete in, from the 200 metre sprint to a marathon. Wheelchair racing also has different classifications. For example, athletes who are amputees or have spinal cord injuries are in classes T51-T58, while athletes in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy are classified as T32-T38.
Frotten would encourage people to give wheelchair racing a shot.
“I’m sure as soon as they try it, they’ll all fall in love with it,” she said. “It’s so important for people who had these life-changing accidents to maintain a normal, healthy, active lifestyle and this is a great way to do it.”
Frotten has played a large role in the wheelchair racing movement in the province. Last year, she joined the Cyclones Road and Track Club in Saskatoon. The club, which has produced Paralympic athletes, is the only one of its kind in Saskatchewan.
Having to travel over two hours to train, usually early in the morning, became a problem for Frotten, so she approached First Steps exercise therapist Stacey Laing. Laing decided to head up the project to create a wheelchair racing program in Regina and she’s working on becoming a certified coach. The effort has been aided by over $20,000 from Sask. Sport Inc. as part of its adaptive sport grants, which are aimed at promoting physical activity among people with disabilities by funding adaptive sports programs.
“I find that when I do race it’s really easy to clear my head ... When you’re at the track and lapping all the runners, it’s almost empowering – a catch me if you can kind of thing.” - Jessica Frotten
While working with her clients at First Steps, Laing has observed that those in a wheelchair just want to get a sense of “normality” back in their lives. She said working to build up this program will help do just that.
“As soon as you’re in a wheelchair, it’s like, ‘What’s next?’ ” she said. “You want to keep going. You want to have goals. You want to do things that everyone would do, so I think competition and training are important.
“Through my job, I’ve noticed that people’s dedication to becoming stronger and training is at a whole other level, for sure.”
While the plan to expand wheelchair racing in the city and province is still in the early stages, Frotten and Laing have developed some long-term goals. Frotten hopes that Regina’s club and the Cyclones can form a provincial team. Laing is hoping to plan an all-accessible wheelchair marathon for racers in Western Canada.
For Frotten, it’s hard to imagine life without the thrill of wheelchair racing.
While it isn’t the easiest sport to learn and there’s potential for injuries with athletes barrelling down the track at high speeds, she plans to keep on racing.
“I find that when I do race it’s really easy to clear my head and not think of anything else,” she said. “When you’re at the track and lapping all the runners, it’s almost empowering – a catch me if you can kind of thing.”
Jonathan Hamelin is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Regina. To view more of his work, visit his website.