Wheelchair Sports, USA

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Ambulatory Sports USA
Formation 1956; 61 years ago (1956)
  • Littleton, CO
Website adaptivesportsusa.org
Formerly called
National Wheelchair Athletic Association
Wheelchair Sports, USA
Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports, USA

Adaptive Sports USA (formerly the National Wheelchair Athletic Association, Wheelchair Sports USA, and Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports, USA) is a registered multi-sport organization of the United States Olympic Committee/the U.S. Paralympics dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles by implementing sports and recreation opportunities for children and adults with a physical disability. Mostly a volunteer organization, Adaptive Sports USA works in conjunction with local and regional sports organizations to develop and promote sanctioned sporting events for youths and adults with a physical disability. The mission of Adaptive Sports USA is to engage, evolve, and empower individuals with a disability to be involved in adaptive sport through education, coaching and advocacy. By creating a community outreach program, Adaptive Sports USA increases opportunities for individuals with a disability and are a gateway to regional, national and international multi-sport competitions.

Each year Adaptive Sports USA sponsors the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals (formerly the National Junior Disability Championships [NJDC]), the longest continually run competition for athletes with a physical disability in the United States.


Adaptive Sports USA has a long and storied history in providing competitive sports opportunities to individuals with a disability. Founded in 1956 as the National Wheelchair Athletic Association, the early years of wheelchair sports were successful in large part due to the efforts of Benjamin Lipton, the Bulova Watch Company and the Bulova School of Watchmaking. Mr. Lipton was the Executive Director of the Bulova School of Watchmaking and served as the Chairman of NWAA for the first 25 years of its existence. Mr. Lipton ensured the viability of the organization during the early years by making the Bulova Company a primary financial supporter of NWAA. The initial impetus to organize NWAA 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, a sport that had seen rapid growth in the early 1950s through teams 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 NWAA program appealed to even greater numbers of athletes with disabilities due to the incorporation of women and athletes with quadriplegia, populations that could not be easily accommodated by Basketball. 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 twenty-six participants, and few events (shot put, javelin, club throw, and archery) but growth in both the number of events and participants developed 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 is generally recognized as the precursor to the present day Paralympic Games. The focus for NWAA and later, WSUSA, during the first four decades was competitive sports opportunities in the identified “core sports” for individuals utilizing wheelchairs for mobility. Following Mr. Lipton’s tenure, the national office of NWAA moved to Colorado Springs, CO in 1982 in an effort to be closer to the National Governing Bodies of the core sports of NWAA recognized by the US Olympic Committee. It was during this time frame that NWAA played a key role in putting competitive sports for athletes with disabilities on the international stage by promoting a series of exhibition events in Wheelchair Track at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

From its earliest beginnings to the present day, Adaptive 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 athlete with a disability 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 athlete with a disability has, with rare exceptions, developed his or her own resources and sports opportunities, from rules and governing structure (i.e., Adaptive Sports USA) to funding travel, equipment and other expenses of competition. Adaptive sports enthusiasts are involved at all levels of decision-making in the Adaptive Sports USA, and its constituent associations. Adaptive Sports USA, has remained essentially an all-volunteer organization, drawing on the energy and commitment of the people who also benefit from its programs. Adaptive 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 adaptive sports throughout the United States and the rest of the world. With the continuing increase in public awareness, the future of adaptive athletic competition is indeed bright.

In 1994, the organizational name was changed to Wheelchair Sports, USA to more accurately reflect the organization’s mission. As a result of several Disabled Sports Organizations (DSO’s) dissolving that represented the sporting interests for a specific segment of the disabled population, including organizations representing athletes with Cerebral Palsy and “Les Autres” athletes, Wheelchair Sports, USA found its mission changing dramatically from providing sports opportunities to individuals using wheelchairs to serving as a comprehensive competitive sports organization for all individuals with a disability, both ambulatory and non-ambulatory. As a result, in 2010, the organizational name was changed to Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports USA and in 2015 to Adaptive Sports USA in an effort to better describe the mission that evolved for the organization. It was also within this time frame that Adaptive Sports USA entered into a formal relationship with the International Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports Federation (IWAS), an offshoot of the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation. By virtue of this relationship, Adaptive Sports USA found itself with a mechanism for providing quality competitive opportunities for athletes seeking to establish themselves on an international stage. This relationship continues to the present.

Adaptive Sports USA has managed to host the preeminent competitive sports event for junior athletes (6 - 22) with a disability in the United States continuously since 1984. Now known as the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals (formerly the National Junior Disability Championships [NJDC]), the event has had several titles in its nearly 30 years of existence. The Junior Nationals is a week-long competition including Archery, Powerlifting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Track & Field, and other sporting events.

History of Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals[edit]

Junior Nationals is an avenue for young athletes to showcase their abilities through sport and to promote physical activity and socialization. Additionally, the Championships serve as an opportunity for individuals to advance along the athlete pipeline that may one day lead them to compete at the international level and the Paralympic Games.

Junior Nationals began in 1984 with three sanctioned events for wheelchair athlete’s ages 7 to 19 and is now the largest annual multi-sport event for juniors with physical disabilities and/or visual impairments in the United States. Junior Nationals is contested in a different city annually in July. This provides an opportunity for athletes to explore diverse areas of the country, travel costs to remain neutral and allows various Local Hosts the opportunity to gain experience in event management and build a legacy. Below is a history of the host cities:

  1984          Dover, Delaware
  1985          Fishersville, Virginia
  1986          Valley Forge, PA
  1987          Lawrenceville, NJ
  1988          Johnson City, TN
  1989          Cupertino, CA                           DeAnza College
  1990          Fort Collins, CO                        Colorado State University
  1991          Princeton, NJ                           Princeton University
  1992          Orlando, Florida                        Disney World
  1993          Columbus, Ohio                          Ohio State University
  1994          Edmond, Oklahoma                        Central Oklahoma University
  1995          Fort Collins, CO                        Colorado State University
  1996          Birmingham, AL                          Samford University
  1997          Mesa, Arizona                           Mesa High School
  1998          Bellevue, WA                           
  1999          Albuquerque, NM  
  2000          San Jose, CA                            San Jose State University
  2001          Piscataway, NJ                          Rutgers University
  2002          New London, CT                    
  2003          New London, CT
  2004          Mesa, Arizona                           Mountain View High School
  2005          Tampa, Florida
  2006          Tampa, Florida
  2007          Spokane, WA
  2008          Piscataway, NJ                          Rutgers University
  2009          St. Louis, Missouri
  2010          Lake Forest, IL
  2011          Saginaw, Michigan                       Saginaw State University
  2012          Mesa, Arizona                           Mesa Community College
  2013          Rochester, MN
  2014          Ames, IA                                Iowa State University

Regional Point Organizations, National Governing Bodies and Sport Technical Committees[edit]

Adaptive Sports USA has three Regional Point Organizations (Western, Central and Eastern) dividing the United States for the purpose of coordinating, assisting and implementing local & regional meets; sanctioned, qualifying meets; and workshops & clinics for athletes and coaches in order to develop skills and knowledge. Adaptive Sports USA also serves as support and consultation to state high school associations, conferences and schools that desire to provide inclusive opportunities to their student-athletes in the areas of Archery, Powerlifting, Swimming, Table Tennis and Track & Field.

Adaptive Sports USA Regional Councils (Eastern, Central, Western) Local Chapters
National Governing Bodies Track / Field
Sport Technical Committees Archery
Table Tennis
Air Rifle
Air Pistol

Regional Point Organizations[edit]

Adaptive Sports USA is divided into three Regional Point Organizations: Western, Central and Eastern.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]