2019 marks ten years since our first sports wheelchairs rolled off the production line. It’s been an incredible journey. Sports Manager, Clare, shares the background.

There’s a reason I’m starting a celebration of Motivation’s sports wheelchairs with a picture of Timonthy in one of our everyday wheelchairs. It’s not an obvious way to begin, I’ll give you that, but stay with me: it’s all connected!

I first caught sight of Timonthy, a power lifter from Papua New Guinea, as he rolled into the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games in his Motivation Rough Terrain wheelchair.  

We were there to launch the Flying Start – a brand new racing wheelchair. Back then, and to this day, an elite racing wheelchair would set you back £3,000 (US$4,000) or more. So access to para-athletics was mostly limited to high income nations. There wasn’t much affordable equipment for developing countries trying to develop sports teams. And nothing for disabled people wanting to give new sports a try. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) wanted to change that, so more sports could be accessible to more people everywhere.

So how did Motivation get involved? We’ll have to travel back a few years to explain… The IPC and their Agitos Foundation first approached us in 2005, suggesting we turn our expertise in wheelchair design and production for developing countries to sports wheelchairs.

Our first designs were for court sports, so the IPC hooked us up with the international tennis (ITF) and wheelchair basketball (IWBF) federations to see what could be done. One of our first meetings in July 2005 was interrupted as the team tuned in to hear the announcement that London had been awarded the 2012 Games. It took many more meetings, prototypes, funding requests and trials before two simple and affordable designs rolled off the production line: in April 2009, we launched the Spin Off – for basketball – and the Quick Hit – for tennis.

We couldn’t have imagined the popularity of these chairs! From developing countries – and from people living in higher income countries too, where small organisations could stretch their limited equipment budgets further with Motivation wheelchairs.

A few years later, the IPC came back to us with a second request; this time for a racing wheelchair. Together we set about designing the Flying Start: tough, durable and perfectly fitted to the IPC criteria for track, road and marathon racing.

So let’s get back (or is it forward?) to 2012 and that night in London. As the teams flooded round the stadium, and we started seeing athletes propelling their everyday Motivation wheelchairs, there was a lump in the back of my throat.

These athletes, from low income and developing nations, would have received their wheelchair free of charge, through a Motivation project or partner. It would have been fitted by staff trained to the standards Motivation had worked so hard with the World Health Organization (WHO) and others to create.Here was the best illustration of the difference the right wheelchair can make, and in a context so familiar to me: sports. With the right wheelchair and training you can get out, get fit, get to training and feel confident to put yourself out there. Even, like Timonthy, you can get all the way to the Paralympic Games, nearly 9,000 miles from home.

But there’s always room for improvement, so in 2013 we released a new court sports wheelchair that combined our two original models. This allowed a single wheelchair to be used for different sports: users can play tennis or cricket in the morning, then basketball or touch rugby in the afternoon. We called it the Multisport.

The Chair That Changes Lives with Jen Hewett-Browning, Team USA two time Paralympic Basketball Medallist and now Motivation Trustee

Unlike everyday wheelchairs, most of our sports chairs aren’t used by a single individual, but will be at a hospital or rehab centre, club, school or university, and might see 20 different derrières or more each week.

Over 12,000 sports wheelchairs have been produced and found in more than 100 countries. Given that our chairs are often purchased and used in a club context, this means that they are available to use by more than one person. And that could mean that anything between 36,000 and half a million people might be accessing sport with a Motivation sports wheelchair. That’s even more people with – and without – a disability seeing wheeled and Paralympic sport in action, challenging the notions of what people with disability can do.

Access to play and sport as a human right is an important part of Motivation’s work to enable greater independence and opportunity for disabled people. The creation and supply of entry level sports wheelchairs is one way we make an impact.

When we sell these wheelchairs through our social enterprise, it’s a win-win situation. Folk get an affordable, well-made sports wheelchair and all profit goes back into our charity to fund our work and programmes in Africa and Asia. It’s all connected; told you!

So as we celebrate 10 years of these amazing life-changing wheelchairs and the fantastic people and organisations who use them to such great effect, we’d like to say a massive thank you.

Thank you for supporting our work, for supporting accessible sport and for helping us to get closer to our vision of a world in which disabled people are fully included and can participate in all aspects of life.

Join the celebration

If you, or your team, use Motivation sports wheelchairs or our everyday wheelchairs for sports, we’d love to hear from you! And we’d love to see photos of you powering your Motivation wheelchair – please get in touch.

Are you a sports federation looking to develop low cost adapted equipment to increase participation? You should also get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.

If you want to access sport, but don’t know how, tell us where you are and what type of sport you are trying to start. We’ll try to hook you up with a club or contact.

A list of sports wheelchair funding opportunities can be found here.

Come find the sports team on Facebook, Twitter and our Instagram pages.

Find more information on our sports wheelchairs.

Banner photo: © R. Colfs/Handicap International - Event of distribution of wheelchairs for athletes participating in Paralympics games. John, Athlet of Comité Paralympique du Congo, is training before the demonstration race.