The Finishing Line
During the turn of the 17th century, Science gained its recognition in people’s lives by the surge of inventions made possible by “natural philosophers”, better known now as scientists. And it was during this time that a wheelchair was invented.
A self-propelled wheelchair was known to be of use for the first time during this century. It gradually evolved to be a more comfortable and better manoeuvrability vehicle for the disabled. From two large wheels and one small one to rear push wheels, small front casters, hollow rubber wheels, push rims for added self-propulsion and spoked wheels by the 19th century. Next came the motorized wheelchair and the folding wheelchair during the turn of the 20th century, which followed closely by the current race-type wheelchair.
Sporting events in major games for the disabled kept the bar rising with records broken and personal best to be the order of the day. And with the wheelchair technology coming to terms with the need for speed, race-type wheelchairs have high standards requirement to provide the athlete with maximum propulsion with reasonable power.
It is no longer just about the disabled athlete; it is also about the ‘machine’. The very material that the wheelchair is made of, the design of the weight to justify the balance and the impeccable bond between the ‘man and the machine’. With high standards comes higher cost. Lightweight material with improved durability such as carbon-fibre is used in most race-type wheelchairs. These carbon-fibre materials are even strong enough to use as the major components in aircraft.
But the most interesting part of wheelchair racing is when the disabled athlete put their mettle to the test on the competition track. Through the months and years of training, the disabled athlete, backed by the knowledge of sports technology and physics, uses the concepts of force, speed, acceleration, aerodynamics and the centre-of-gravity to edge them closer in achieving that gold across the finishing line. Adrenaline aside, pretty cool huh?
Mary Bellis, About.com Guide