The paralyzed patients at Rehab Hospital are taught how to relearn their skills and sports
DAWNA ZANE has won the marathon in Honolulu, paddled in New Zealand and skied in Alaska. All in a wheelchair.
In 2000, Zane was in a car accident that left her with a spinal cord injury, paralyzed from my chest down. She spent three months in therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, working with occupational and physical therapists. “I had to re-learn basic skills, such as how to take a bath, how to change my clothes, how to sit up without falling over and how to maneuver myself around in a wheelchair,” she said.
It was a tremendous adjustment for a woman used to an active sports life, but Zane wouldn’t let her injury defeat her. She now maintains a six-day-per-week workout schedule that would put leave most able-bodied people in the dust.
“I like to do different types of activities to keep things interesting.”
ZANE IS AMONG many wheelchair athletes in Hawaii — role models for the active lifestyle that is possible even after a debilitating injury.
Several of them were guests at a recent “Beyond the Limit” sports open house at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, a program to be repeated on the first Thursday of each month.
The program showcases adaptive equipment that allow patients with spinal cord injuries to engage in sports from horseback riding, archery and surfing to basketball and tennis.
“Lots of adaptive equipment makes life more normal,” said Ann Yoshida, who playing tennis and paddles despite an accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
In addition to adaptive sporting equipment, Yoshida has a special chair for working on a ceramic wheel and is starting her own jewelry line. She is also working on a master’s degree in speech pathology at the University of Hawaii.
In a hospital bed, unable to move after her accident, she knew she had choices to make. “Some people allow the Disability to affect them,” she said. For others, possibilities seem endless.
ZANE makes use of a wide range of special equipment, including a long, low, aerodynamic chair for wheelchair racing, and special chairs for snow skiing.
In the pool, Zane can no longer kick with her legs. “Swimming was a favorite pastime that required a lot of adjustments,” she said. “My legs just drag in the water, adding a lot of resistance. I wrap a thin float device above my knees to keep my legs together. It also makes my legs more buoyant, keeping my legs from sinking, eliminating the drag.”
Paddling, another of her favorites, also requires the use special equipment, including seats that adapt to varying levels of paralysis. “Made from plastic school chairs with backrests, the seats are attached to the built-in canoe seats,” she said. “Paddlers are then strapped into the chair with additional belts.”
Zane works out six times a week, cross training with various activities. “It’s very important that I keep my arms strong. I lift weights at the gym twice a week to maintain my strength.”
She also said one of the greatest benefits of sporting activities is the camaraderie. “I can still have a good life, despite circumstances. We all hang out together and have fun.”
CHRISTINE AND John Greer can attest to the camaraderie factor. The couple met playing wheelchair tennis in Spain — Christine playing on the UK team and John for the United States. They were later married.
Kekoa Cuban, right, goes for a loose ball as Jeff Sampaga eyes a steal at the Manoa District Park gym, where members of Wheelchair Sports Hawaii gather every week to play hoops.
Christine’s was injured in a fall from the back of a motorbike. “We weren’t going fast, only 35 miles per hour. It was twilight, we took a bend and I landed awkwardly on the curbside,” she said.
She has definitely not allowed her injuries to get in the way. Tennis, basketball, road-racing, paddling and horseback riding are among her regular activities.
Her inspiration came from another patient who visited her in the hospital. “When a woman is in a wheelchair, they lose a sense of sexuality. This lady was a sex kitten type, all glamorous. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Christine.
John’s injury occurred in 1984. “I was in the back of a pick up truck and it flipped over,” he said. “I felt like my life was over, but it has opened up many doors. I had to get out there and live, experience things.”
He became a competitive tennis player, achieving his goal in 2004, when he participated in the Paralympics in Athens. “It was an incredible journey,” he said. I put my life, heart and soul into tennis. I was on the road more than I was home.” Since Athens, he has continued to play, but solely for enjoyment.
Traveling is common for many of the athletes. “I enjoy traveling both for fun with friends just for vacation or for sports competitions,” said Zane. “I travel to Japan with my other racing friends to compete in the wheelchair marathon and have traveled to new Zealand with my team to compete in the IVF World Sprints for paddling. Traveling for sport competitions is a great way to meet other wheelchair athletes from around the world.”
AMENDEEP SOMAL, a doctor at the REHAB Hospital, said sports equipment for athletes with special needs vary considerably. “The adaptive equipment usually needs to be custom made and specific for the sport and disability.”
And it can get expensive, Somal said. “Our goal is to introduce people to the various sports using our athletes and their existing equipment. This will allow them to experience the differences and begin to enjoy the sport they truly love.”
Physical activity benefits the patients on various levels. “Along with increased strength, endurance, weight management and improved heart and lung function, all athletes gain invaluable skills and experiences,” she added.
“The social aspect of organized sports is tantamount in developing confidence and providing exposure to new people and places. Athletic activities allow participants to gain a new perspective regarding everyday events and affords them the opportunity to travel and be involved in exciting new experiences.”
Finding out what people like to do and their capabilities is key, said Kate Church, a recreational therapist. Building confidence by gaining new skills or rekindling an interest helps, she explained. Motivation often occurs through “face-to-face conversation with another individual who has gone through the challenges you will have to face,” Church said.
Sports and activities provide an outlet for releasing stress and feelings, both physically and mentally, she said. Some advantages: building self confidence, feeling part of a team, strengthening interpersonal skills, sharing fears, hopes and dreams. Physical activities improve Range of Motion, coordination and mobility.
“Experiencing rather than observing, in community programs such as outings, support groups and family activities help to make patients feel like a contributing member of society.”
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
SPINAL CORD INJURY SUPPORT GROUP
Learn more resources for participating in wheelchair activities:
Meetings: First Thursday of each month 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Place: REHAB Hospital of the Pacific
Call: Kate Church, 531-3511, ext. 791, or visit www.rehabhospital.org.
WHERE TO PLAY
Tennis on Tuesdays: 6 to 8 p.m. Ala Moana Beach Park, Courts 1 and 2. Sponsored by the Hawaii Pacific U.S. Tennis Association. Call Madeleine, 955-6696, ext. 26. Rackets and balls provided.
Wheelchair Basketball: 5 to 6:45 p.m., Manoa District Park gym. Some sport chairs available. Sponsored by Wheelchair Sports Hawaii. Call Jeff Sampaga, 983-5380.
By Nancy Arcayna