Adaptive Sports USA


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Founded in 1956 as the National Wheelchair Athletic Association, the name of the organization was changed in 1994 to Wheelchair Sports, USA, in 2009 to Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA  and in 2014 to Adaptive Sports USA to better reflect the organization's mission and goals.

The last change in 2014 recognized the national need for one organization to support sporting events for athletes with all physical disabilities. 

Europe's first organized wheelchair sports program was introduced in 1948 by well-known neurosurgeon, Dr. Ludwig Guttman, founder of the Spinal Injury Center in Stoke-Mandeville, England. The first Stoke-Mandeville Games included only a handful of participants (26), and few events (shotput, javelin, club throw, and archery), but growth in both the number of events and participants came quickly. In 1952, a team from the Netherlands was invited to compete with the British team. This was the first International Stoke-Mandeville Games, an event that has been held annually ever since.

FOUNDED IN 1956 Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports, USA, now in its 54th year, was founded in New York in 1956 in conjunction with the first National Wheelchair Games at Adelphi College. The initial impetus to organize Wheelchair Sports, USA, grew out of the interests of athletes with disabilities - many of whom were veterans of World War II. They wanted to participate in sports other than basketball, which had seen rapid growth in the early 1950's through team s sponsored by veterans hospitals and other rehabilitation agencies. General Omar N. Bradley was one of the leaders of the early efforts to develop wheelchair sports programs, principally for servicemen injured during the war. In the early days, many wheelchair basketball players saw participation in individual wheelchair sports as supplementary training for their primary interest in basketball. However, the Wheelchair Sports, USA, program appealed to even greater numbers of at hletes with disabilities because it was able to incorporate women and quadriplegics (those with paralysis in upper as well as lower extremities); two populations which basketball could not reasonable accommodate at that time.


The administrative expenses of Wheelchair Sports, USA, were underwritten for many years by the Bulova Watch Company, the Bulova family, and the Bulova School of Watchmaking, whose executive director, Benjamin Lipton, served as Wheelchair Sports, USA, Chairman for the organization's first twenty-five years. The primary focus of Wheelchair Sports, USA, in the early years was on organizing annual national championship competitions and fielding USA teams for international competition. USA teams have competed in world championship competitions annually since 1960 in such countries as England, Israel, the Netherlands, Japan, Argentina, France, and a host of other nations. Since the early 1970's additional efforts were undertaken to organize Wheelchair Sports, USA, programs on more local and regional levels throughout the United States. Today, Wheelchair Sports, USA, is organized geographically into fourteen regional associations, each responsible for developing local wheelchair sports programs and for conducting qualifying meets for the National Wheel chair Games.


The national offices of Wheelchair Sports, USA, remained in New York for twenty-six years before moving to Colorado Springs in 1982 to join the many other sports organizations comprising the U.S. Olympic Committee. The move to Colorado Springs and recognition by the U.S. Olympic Committee reflects a principal concern of Wheelchair Sports, USA, to provide athletic experiences for athletes with disabilities paralleling those of the able-bodied, from novice through elite levels. With the move to Colorado Springs, the first professional staff in Wheelchair Sports, USA's history was hired to administer the many ongoing programs as well as to develop new initiatives to promote wheelchair sports. Wheelchair Sports, USA, has realized major accomplishment in these past years. Wheelchair Sports, USA, athletes on several occasions have traveled to Colorado Springs and the U.S. Olympic Training Center to train alongside their able-bodied counterparts preparing for International level competition. On August 11, 1984, wheelchair athletes made their formal debut in the Olympic Games with the first-ever exhibition wheelchair track events held in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In 1988, a wheelchair athlete became the first woman to receive a gold medal in the Olympic and Paralympic Games (disabled Olympic Games). Wheelchair Sports, USA, played a principal role in conceiving and organizing the events with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and has continued to play a major role in each Summer Olympic Competition since that time.

Wheelchair Sports, USA, has expanded its offerings to junior athletes which make up 30% of the total membership. Regional associations now conduct annual local competitions for youths aged five to eighteen. The WSUSA Junior National Championships, the organizations largest annual event, was first held in July 1984. This event provided the first national program of competitions for junior athletes.

From its earliest beginnings to the present day, Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports, USA, has been directed and developed by wheelchair athletes and wheelchair sports enthusiasts themselves, individuals with a first-hand understanding to the values of participation. By and large, the needs of the wheelchair athlete are not addressed by the vast network of athletic programs available to able-bodied persons through our educational system and community recreation agencies. Instead, the wheelchair athlete has, with rare exceptions, developed his or her own resources and sports opportunities, from rules and governing structure (i.e., Wheelchair Sports, USA) to funding travel, equipment and other expenses of competition. Wheelchair sports enthusiasts are involved at all levels of decision-making in the Wheelchair Sports, USA, and its constituent associations. Wheelchair Sports, USA, has remained essentially an all-volunteer organization, drawing on the energy and commitment of the people who also benefit from its programs. Wheelchair sports have also been described as the most authentic of sports enterprises because the athletes compete and develop their own opportunities for the intrinsic values of participation - and not for the promise of professional contracts or financial reward. The dreams of individual athletes have been made possible through the efforts and dedication of pioneers such as Dr. Guttman and Lipton, and the countless other organizers, volunteers, friends, and supporters of wheelchair sports throughout the United States and the rest of the world. With the continuing increase in public awareness, the future of wheelchair athletic competition is indeed bright.

In 2009 after long understanding that sporting events should be available and supported for all athletes with physical disabilities WSUSA officially changed its name to Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA.  This was a change in name and not in mission for the organization had welcomed Blind, CP and Amputee athletes to it's Junior competition for the past 5 years. 

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This site was last updated 12/11/19