We've all marvelled at clips and videos of adaptive athletes conquering obstacle courses worldwide, but have we really put enough thought into the particular challenges faced by many when it comes to competing for places in championship races? Insight from adaptive athlete Jamie Gane suggests that our rulebooks might need a revamp as OCR continues to evolve. The below is a repost from his blog, which makes for very interesting reading.

Adaptive athlete proposal

For many able-bodied athletes, qualification to the European and World Obstacle Course Racing Championships can be extremely difficult. In some races, an individual needs to be placed in the top 5 within their age group to qualify and this can take an athlete several attempts to achieve. Now imagine being an amputee, a visually impaired runner or a wheelchair athlete and having to still achieve a top-5 result against able-bodied individuals.

Main Objectives

This proposal aims to set out a fair system to allow adaptive athletes to qualify for the championships despite a disability. The adjustments needed on course and obstacle alterations are not discussed within this proposal and would be outlined once qualification is accepted for adaptive athletes.

Previous Research

57 participants were surveyed and the following results were discovered:

75% of people reported to have an impairment, health condition or learning difference. I felt it necessary to consult both the adaptive and able-bodied community in order to create a fair system where athletes are not at an advantage to qualification.

36 of the 42 individuals with impairments reported that they would use equipment/aids on course. 1/3rd of respondents would use a prosthetic limb while 19% would use a self-propelling wheelchair with mild assistance. Interestingly, 25% of individuals would use either crutches or walking sticks/poles. This significant number provides evidence to accommodate athletes who may not be able to complete OCRs at a typical running speed. This also highlights the need to classify non-runners in a different category.

23% of respondents have never completed an OCR with 26% of people having completed 4 – 10 courses. Of those who have not completed an OCR, lack of access to equipment was the largest barrier of entry (46%). 39% identified unfair competition or lack of adaptive-specific OCRs as their reason for not entering an OCR. 31% of respondents have not competed due to a severe lack of OCR online information for disabled athletes.

Although acquiring disabled OCR equipment is difficult and perhaps unrealistic at first, creating a fair system for adaptive athletes could appeal to the 39% of respondents who felt they would participate if the system were fair. 93% of respondents felt, as though the current qualification requirements are unfair for adaptive athletes given they must qualify the same as their able-bodied competitors.

97% of individuals felt that adaptive athletes should have to qualify for the championships, thus justifying a need to create a fair system for disabled competitors to be recognised as athletes representing their respective country.

91% of respondents believed there should be a separate wave for adaptive athletes with competitors being given the opportunity to compete in the able-bodied wave instead. If competitors have qualified through the standard route, athletes should be given the opportunity to run within their age category. Adaptive wave(s) could be placed in the middle of the running programme to give slower runners/walkers an opportunity to finish the course before the cut-off.

83% believed that an adaptive athlete should supply medical documentation. For those with invisible or varying disabilities, this can be very difficult and caution should be taken for athletes who are not able to acquire such documentation. An athlete’s classification score should be based on their ability/disability and not on their diagnosis alone.

For example, two below-knee amputees appeal through the extenuating circumstances adaptive athlete policy (ECAP) route. One amputee has undergone a recent amputation and uses crutches while the other has been an amputee for 10 years and runs on a blade. It would not be fair to classify both amputees within the same score, nor would it be fair to compare their results for qualification/ranking.

With this in mind, 97% of respondents agreed that the proposal highlighted below was fair to both adaptive and able-bodied competitors.

Extenuating Circumstances  - Adaptive Athlete Proposal/Policy (ECAP)

Following on from the research undertaken, I am proposing a points-based qualification system, as below:

  • Adaptive athletes to be given a score (1-5) based on their disability for both individual and team races
  • 1-5 pointed athletes to qualify for the open and team courses
  • 3-5 pointed athletes to qualify for the short and standard courses
  • Adaptive athletes must attend qualifying races, as-per their able-bodied counterparts
  • Adaptive athletes, under this policy, to be accepted and acknowledged as athletes representing their respective country
  • Adaptive athletes to be ranked according to their points against other adaptive athletes at the championships

Adaptive athletes to be given a classification score (1-5)

It would not be fair to allow those who are very able with a disability to compete and be ranked against someone with a larger impairment; therefore there must be a sort of classification system. By allocating points to athletes, it allows those with varying disabilities to compete and be ranked against one another.  An example of the points system can be seen below, which only includes a small number of disabilities:

5 Point Athlete Disabilities where no assistance is required Mild visual impairment Severe hearing impairment Mild physical impairment of the lower or upper limbs
4 Point Athlete Disabilities where mild assistance is required at some obstacles Moderate visual impairment – no assistance required Mild hand deficiency
3 Point Athlete Independent runner with minimal assistance required Lower leg deficiency/amputation – runner Upper limb deficiency/amputation Severe visual impairment requiring guide runner/assistance
2 Point Athlete Disabilities where assistance is required for terrain and some obstacles Wheelchair user requiring assistance. Self-propelled
1Point Athlete Wheelchair user requiring full assistance. Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy

1-5 pointed athletes to qualify for the open and team courses and 3-5 pointed athletes to qualify for the short and standard courses

It is important for adaptive athletes to compete on the same course as those without disabilities. Given that the short and standard courses do not allow athletes to receive assistance, athletes classified as 1-2 would not be able to achieve this safely. However, all adaptive athletes (1-5) should be given the chance to compete in the open and team category, which requires no qualification (as with able-bodied racers).  

Adaptive athletes must attend qualifying races, as-per their able-bodied counterparts

A margin will be given and based on an athlete’s points. An example of qualification guidelines can be seem below:

5 Point Athlete +10%
4 Point Athlete +15%
3 Point Athlete +20%

For example, a theoretical qualifying race requires the top 5 in their age category. The athlete, who achieved 5th place, came in with a time of 60 minutes. A 5-pointed athlete should be able to qualify with a time of 66 minutes, a 4-pointer with 69 minutes and a 3-pointer with 72 minutes.

These figures act as guides and should be taken on an individual basis. Moving forward, when a full policy is established and more adaptive athletes are competing, more accurate figures can be obtained.

Adaptive athletes, under this policy, to be accepted and acknowledged as athletes representing their respective country

Until this proposal, adaptive athletes have not been given the opportunity to represent their country at the championships, unless they have been able to qualify through the able-bodied route.

The results from the adaptive athletes should be entered into the general standings within the championships and they should be entitled to wear their team apparel.

Adaptive athletes to be ranked according to their points against other adaptive athletes at the championships

Although this may not be possible at first, athletes should be ranked against those within their point category. With medal presentations, adaptive athletes should be given the opportunity to be titled with ‘First Adaptive 5/4/3 Athlete.’

Summary

It is clear from the evidence above and the conversations I have had with other adaptive athletes that there should be some adjustments to qualification criteria. This document has not attempted to identify the adjustments needed on courses but simply the requirements for an adaptive athlete to qualify.

There’s no clear ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to adaptive athletes – athletes should be looked at as individuals and assessed in combination with the race organisers.

In making this proposal come to fruition, with potential for small changes, adaptive athletes will be given a chance – a chance that they currently do not have.

More from Jamie Gane on Facebook.

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