Tony Jackson is unmistakable in a crowd. His crazy hair and heavy metal style means that he carves his own path through the world but Tony isn’t your typical headbanger- he rocks out on wheels wherever he goes. Tony has condition called arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder in which multiple joints are bent, twisted or fused causing limited movement. He gets around with the help of a power wheelchair but despite physical limitations, there isn’t much Tony hasn’t accomplished. Like Maegan Clark and Robert Coombs, he’s figured out how to get where he wants to go in life: earning 2 college degrees, living independently and most recently becoming employed at a brand new sports and fitness facility for people with disabilities. see also SpoFit.
“Sports are something that have always been a part of my life,” he explains. He’s been a fan of soccer since he was a kid but there were not a lot of opportunities for children with disabilities to play. “I mean, my friends always tried to find some way to get me involved. Letting me be referee or coach from the sidelines but,” Tony admits, “it just wasn’t the same. There was always something missing.”
Until Power Soccer came along…
Power soccer is a take off the classic game. Using a giant soccer ball (that is incredibly durable!) and markers on either end of an indoor basketball court, players bump, kick, and block their way to scoring goals. Developed in France in the 70s as a European sport for power wheelchair users, it came to the United States and the rest of the world in the 80s and in the 90s continued to grow in popularity. The coolest part about power soccer is it’s ability to level the playing field and allow athletes to use their brains more than their brawn.
The first time I saw Power Soccer in full competitive action was at the third annual PowerBlast Tournament in Phoenix, Arizona.
There, I saw players spin-kicking balls and knocking in goals kicked off opponent’s chairs. The chairs go surprisingly fast, topping out at 10kmh or 6.2 mph, which is a special league-regulated setting all chairs conform to. For reference, this is faster than jogging speed! -insert Mazda’s “Zoom, zoom, zoom” here- Players must perform a speed test at the beginning of each tournament to ensure that no one is tweaking their settings for an advantage. “One thing I didn’t expect was how fast the chairs would go. I have a mode on my chair that is specifically for power soccer. It makes my chair go really fast, turn fast, and stop and accelerate quickly.”
How do you keep yourselves in your chairs? How do you keep your balance if you don’t have trunk control?” Being a quadriplegic, myself, I can see myself toppling over at the first turn. “If you aren’t careful, you can knock yourself over and if you aren’t wearing your seatbelt, you can get thrown out,” Tony warned. “It was really scary at first because all of the settings are turned way high and if you’re not expecting it, it can surprise you. When I first started playing… I forgot to put on my seatbelt and nearly was thrown out!”
Controlling these chairs is no easy matter either. With the rest of the modes (stop, accelerate, and turn) set “higher than they should be”, these 150lb powerhouses have to be able to slide and spin on the slick court without momentum tipping over. Crazy cool that you can slide on the court but I was a little concerned… “Has anyone ever tipped over?” “Ohh, yeah! It happened two or three times in the last game (I was in)!” Apparently, fear is not a factor here and among other reasons, this is why power soccer is played on an indoor basketball court. Asphalt = ouch!
What is it about the game that you like, I asked Tony. “The competition.” I could have guessed that! “It’s fun getting in the chair and hitting the ball around and crashing in to people and that was not what drew me. Playing on a team, going head to head in a competition and getting caught up in the moment was the best thing.”
The games were held at the brand new Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center in Phoenix, Arizona. This state-of-the-art facility makes staying healthy and competitive possible by providing three accessible pools, a fully adapted gym, jogging track, rock climbing wall, and indoor temperature controlled basketball court. With funding provided from bonds, grants, and donations, the $5 million facility opened this year in February. For more information and directions, visit the SpoFit’s website! Also, for more information about the United States Power Soccer Association, visit their website!