Reeve Spotlight: U.S. Adaptive Bobsled & Skeleton Association, Inc

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on May 03, 2016 # Adaptive Sports

Serendipity works in mysterious ways. In 2014, Dave Nicholls was a presenter at a Los Angeles abilities expo when he came across the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

“I was familiar with the Foundation,” said Nicholls, “But not the Quality of Life Grants they offered.”

Almost a decade before, Nicholls and a handful of pioneering para and amputee athletes, including Aaron Lanningham, Gary Kuhl and Tom Naperski, came together to form the world’s first adaptive bobsled organization, the U.S. Adaptive Bobsled & Skeleton Association (USABSA). They used two 2-man bobsleds obtained from the Virgin Islands Olympic Team after the 2002 Winter Olympics.

“At the time, we were the only organization in the world with an adaptive sled,” said Nicholls. “We certainly helped to pioneer the sport. Soon after we caught the attention of the IBSF [International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation], the sport’s international governing body, and recruited track officials and others to share our vision.”

The USABSA had two sleds for a number of years until one was retired after an accident. With only one sled and more than 40 participants, the organization began to turn people away because they didn’t have enough adaptive equipment to service them.

“It’s a huge deal if you only have two pieces of equipment and one goes haywire. It was a big challenge for the program,” said Nicholls. “We applied for a Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grant to purchase another two-man adapted bobsled to help the organization meet its goals to continue to service all participants that apply.”

The $8,000 Quality of Life Grant USABSA received helped fund the purchase of a used 2-man sled. Some necessary safety adaptations were made so the sled could be accessible to people living with paraplegia, quadriplegia, and amputation. Without the specially adapted sleds, the IBSF would not allow these athletes to participate.

“Having an additional sled has helped us move the sport forward,” said Nicholls. “And it’s still in use today.”

During the off-season, June through October, the USABSA holds introductory training and conditioning camps where new athletes to the sport can become accustomed with the equipment, sleds, and Park City Track. November through March, the IBSF will host driving schools and competition around the world.

“It takes a great deal of mental and physical strength to negotiate 15 curves at 80-100 miles per hour and 5 G's of gravity,” said Nicholls. “Yet, it’s not about the bobsled, it’s about changing lives, setting personal goals and achieving them. It’s about quality of life. For many, this experience is a form of rehab.”

USABSA is currently the only non-profit organization in the United States that continues to pioneer, organize, recruit, fund, develop, and train disabled athletes for upcoming national and international Paralympic bobsled driving schools and competition.

“Learning to pilot or run and push a bobsled alongside able-bodied and disabled athletes can help to bring growth and equal opportunities to participate in the sport by smashing stereotypes while leading to a sense of personal growth and incredible achievement,” said Nicholls. “Providing the means, opportunities and ability for a disabled athlete to experience the thrills and exhilarating sport of bobsled and skeleton can provide for a better quality of life as well as increased personal self-esteem.”

In March, the Reeve Foundation sled was used at Utah Olympic Park in Park City for the first-ever International Paralympic World Cup Championship.

“It was the final event of ten years of work. The top three para bobsled athletes from many different nations came together in a presentation to the International Paralympic Committee for consideration as a full-medal sport,” said Nicholls.

In September 2016, the International Paralympic Committee will meet in Bonn, Germany, to vote on whether to include para bobsled and para skeleton as a medal sport in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. USABSA is also working with the International Bobsled & Skeleton Federation to purchase a monobob, a single-person sled that with minor modifications could be used by Paralympic athletes.

“Without the help of the Reeve Foundation, this sport might not be where it is today,” said Nicholls. “Who would have thought that someone without the use of their legs could pilot a bobsled? A lot of athletes now have this opportunity thanks to the Reeve Foundation.”