“Everyone Plays!” Shows How Innovation Shaped Adaptive Sports

Athletes With Disabilities Embrace Innovation for Competitive Sport
September 28, 2016
News Release
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Motocross rider Mike Schultz in midair

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will open “Everyone Plays!” Oct. 1, a display showcasing the innovation of adaptive sports and the athletes who participate and excel in competitive sports with adaptive equipment. The exhibit will be on view through March 26.

Although sports medicine and occupational therapy have been in practice since 1920, it was not until their rehabilitative use for injured veterans after World War II that these techniques were widely adopted. In 1948, a neurologist working with paralyzed veterans founded the Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralyzed, and since then, organized play for athletes with disabilities has expanded. Today, the Paralympic Games and the X Games’ adaptive events offer opportunities for competition to thousands of athletes each year.

As more programs for people with disabilities appeared, advanced equipment for sports emerged. Sports-equipment manufacturers began producing adaptive equipment in the 1970s to satisfy growing demand in the adaptive-sports industry. Individuals independently altered equipment to suit their athletic needs.

With innovations in equipment, athletes like Chris Douglas, born with spina bifida and paralyzed after a spinal-cord surgery, could continue pursuing competitive sports. Douglas modified his own custom hockey sled and shortened hockey sticks with spikes to help propel him across the ice.

Since 1960, the Paralympics, taking place soon after the Olympics, have embraced adaptive athletes in both winter and summer sports. “Everyone Plays!” will contain the prosthetic sockets and feet worn by Amy Purdy at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she won a bronze medal in Snowboard Cross. Purdy helped develop her prosthetics, which have made huge advancements allowing athletes to perform specialized tasks with enhanced agility.

The X Games have included adaptive sports since 2008, in partnership with Adaptive Action Sports (a chapter of Disabled Sports USA), where extreme sports have been brought to the forefront of adaptive competition. These adaptive athletes compete in the same conditions as able-bodied athletes, making precision equipment and prostheses imperative. “Everyone Plays!” will feature Mike Schultz’s motocross bike and outfit, moto knee and versa foot, which he invented and produced for extreme athletes. Shultz holds the record number of adaptive gold medals in X Games history.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy and culture. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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Claire Gallo



National Museum of American History
Press Office