Based out of Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, N.J., the Lightning Wheels (catchy name right?) was formed in 1981. The junior wheelchair athletics team encourages independence despite challenges and gives children the opportunity to partake in and benefit from athletic competition.
The image of a spoked-wheel with a lightning bolt going right through it is forever engrained in my mind. Being part of the Lightning Wheels helped me deal with being a normal kid, who just happened to have a physical disability. From age five to 20, I learned independence, goal setting, dedication, and discovered that I was very athletic and had a huge need for speed. Through the years, I have dabbled in almost every sport imaginable, but my passion for wheelchair racing emerged while competing as a Lightning Wheel.
While the program offers coaching and competition in track, field, and swimming, it is so much more than an athletic team. The Lightning Wheels recognize, as does wheelchair sports across the board, that, similar to able-bodied athletics, not all will be record holders and not everyone can win. It does however, provide a safe environment for kids to form friendships, improve levels of physical fitness, become independent and increase self-esteem all while having fun. The coaches and fellow team members become mentors and extended family. They are not only aware of your physical aptitude and athletic potential, but they care about your emotional and social well-being. In short, the team nurtures the complete individual.
In 2003, the Lightning Wheels expanded to include ambulatory athletes who don’t necessarily need a wheelchair but may use a walker, crutches, or other assistive devices and in 2009, it was named a Paralympic Sport Club. The recognition, given by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committees, acknowledges the expertise and resources this program has for persons with disabilities.
All I have to say is good luck keeping up with the kids on this team. Many of the current and former members hold national records in track, field, and swimming! The Lightning Wheels has seen a number of its alumni compete on the international level as members of Team USA and have been well represented at the Paralympic Games since 1996!
From taking my first push in a racing chair, to stepping out onto the track (figuratively speaking, since my foot never actually touched the ground) at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, I am forever connected to this program. The Lightning Wheels continue to enrich the lives of others, like myself, every day.
- For more information on the Children’s Specialized Hospital – Lightning Wheels, please visit their website.