In the United States, adaptive sports are growing on a larger scale each year, and individuals with disabilities are being offered more and more opportunities to train and compete at a high level in various sports. Certain universities are beginning to offer scholarships for athletes in these sports, which opens up many new doors for both children and adults who wish to train and compete. For many, this is an opportunity for hope and a new focus to keep them moving forward, despite the obstacles they’ve faced in their lives.

Below is an interview with my good friend Stephen Zuravel, an athlete who competes in multiple adaptive sports. He is also a board member for Adaptive Sports Programs of Ohio. He is a constant inspiration to me and a great resource for learning more about adaptive sport programming.

JS: Thanks for doing this interview, Stephen. Can you start off by giving the readers some background information  about yourself?

SZ: My name is Stephen Zuravel. I’m 23 years old and am currently working toward a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering technology at the University of Akron. I’ve always lived a very physically active lifestyle and thankfully still do so to this day. BMX was the first sport that I fell in love with. To me, it was what soccer or baseball is to most young kids growing up. I was also starting to compete in freestyle skiing at 17 and it was becoming my preferred sport.

At 19, I went on a ski trip with a group of friends. On my way home, I was involved in a motor vehicle accident that shattered my C7 vertebra. My diagnosis was C7 incomplete tetraplegic. Thankfully, I’ve been able to regain function below my injury level (starting at my armpits downward), and I’m able to use muscles from my waist up. However, my core is very weak due to atrophy and nerve damage.

JS: So what exactly are adaptive sports?

SZ: Adaptive sports are sports designed specifically for those with physical disabilities. Some of these are entirely different from common sports while others like wheelchair basketball use the same rules as regulation basketball (players simply compete in a specifically designed wheelchair). Many of these sports are performed on equal platforms that typical sports are played on. For example, wheelchair track athletes race on a standard track and swimming is done in a standard pool.

JS: How did you first get involved in adaptive sports?

SZ: I got involved initially through a close friend who wanted me to do a marathon. I still remember the exact day. I had only been out of the hospital a couple of months and he was insisting that I register for the Akron Road Runner Marathon. My gracious and large family helped me raise money to purchase a hand cycle, and I finished my first marathon within ten months of injury. From there, I knew that I could do anything I really pushed for.

JS: So what sports and events have you been involved in so far?

SZ: At this time, I’ve done three marathons using a hand cycle, I sit ski yearly, I've competed in wheelchair rugby, and I've just recently started wheelchair push-rims (“running” for anyone without use of his lower limbs). The skiing is done through an organization known as Three Trackers. Though I stay active in different sports, rugby is my main focus, and I'll be trying out for the U.S. national team, Team FORCE, at the end of October.

JS: What role has strength and conditioning training played in your injury recovery and in your preparation for competitive sports?

SZ: Strength training and conditioning truly play a major role in my life. Without full use of my body, it’s imperative that I train to keep my body as healthy as possible. In a practical view of things, I'm constantly using my upper body on double duty. Because arms and shoulders aren’t designed for this kind of demand, it's more likely that I'll run into issues with mobility and independence if I slack on strength and conditioning. Aside from the physical benefits of strength and conditioning, training has been motivational for me and has given me a sense of normalcy again. Having my personal trainer, Erich Setele, has been a huge blessing as well. I consider myself a hard worker, but to have a trainer and friend like him has pushed me further than what I thought I could do.

JS: Where do you think adaptive sports are currently headed, and what would you like to see change/improve?

SZ: I’ve only really been involved with the adaptive sports world for a year or so now as an athlete. I just recently became a board member for Adaptive Sports Programs of Ohio. So from what I’ve experienced so far, I see adaptive sports becoming something that is much more easily accessible for the average person with a physical disability.

I'd like to see change and improvement in the recognition of the sports and athletes. Right now, there’s a lot of confusion regarding what adaptive sports are. Having lived on both sides of the fence, first able-bodied and now disabled, these sports are every bit the same as “normal” sports. It’s literally like comparing basketball and football. They're different sports but nonetheless sports that take time and commitment.

JS: Where can readers go to find more information about adaptive sports and how they can get involved?

SZ: For anyone in Ohio, there are three main organizations for adaptive sports—Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio (, Taasc (, and Three Trackers of Ohio ( There is also a gym specifically designed for people with physical disabilities in the Cleveland area called Buckeye Wellness Center (

For anyone outside of Ohio, Google is your best friend in getting involved. Simply search “adaptive sport programs” or something similar and you should be able to find local programs. If you have trouble in your search, feel free to contact me at