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Wheelchair Racing: Different Strokes for Different Folks

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The two techniques are suitable for different types of athletes, often depending on their physical characteristics, he says. To arrive at their findings, Chow and colleagues compared eight elite athletes who used the CVT stroke with seven who used the PBT.

That's not to say that racers have readily adapted to the new technique, which requires a closed hand.

"A lot of people can't push that way so they turn back to the conventional technique," says Morse.

The PBT stroke is hard to pick up, he says. "It can take anywhere from two days to six years to get right."

What does a wheelchair racer need to get started?

"You need a feel for making contact with the hand ring of the wheel, a comfortable pair of gloves, and to be comfortable in the chair itself," says Morse.

Training can be intense, he says. "If you are getting ready for a marathon, you have to do 120 to 200-plus miles a week," Morse says.

In wheelchair racing, "the Boston Marathon is the biggest race. Once you have won it, it's just an incredible rite of passage," Morse says, likening it to what Daytona is for NASCAR drivers.

Morse trained eight-time Boston Marathon winner Jean Driscoll, who has used both methods in her career.

"I used the thumb technique from 1987 through November 1991, and then in December of 1991, I started to experiment with the PBT," she tells WebMD. "It took me about two weeks going nine miles an hour to figure it out, but once I picked it up, I broke the world record by six minutes."

"I was going fast with the thumb technique, but when I switched to PBT, I went even faster," she says. Her record still stands at 1:34:22.

Driscoll retired from racing on Nov. 30, 2000, and is now speaking and writing. Her book, Determined to Win, hit bookstores everywhere in September.

One of the best ways for wheelchair racers to stave off injury is through conditioning, Driscoll tells WebMD.

"Be consistent in your training. Take care of rotator cuff muscles and strengthen your back muscles -- not just chest muscles," she says. "Many people don't realize how much back strength is required in wheelchair racing."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America are hosting the 21st annual National Veteran's Wheelchair games from July 1-5 in New York.

One of the scheduled participants, Gregory Morris, now 53, has been participating in the Games for 21 years. He participates in a slew of events from bowling to track races.

In his earlier years of racing, he used the CVT technique, but now he competes in a motorized chair.

While this method did not affect his shoulders or arms, he has seen it occur in other athletes.

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