Adaptive bobsled race debuts in Park City
Nearly 20 years ago, Aaron Lanningham was injured in a motorcycle accident, costing him the use of his legs.
He did not, however, lose his need for speed.
In 2003, he became the first disabled bobsled driver in a program at the National Ability Center in Park City.
"I was kind of a speed guy I did some ski racing and stuff like that," he said. "Back in 2003, the NAC said they might want to give (adaptive bobsledding) a try, so the director called me."
But after a couple years of running an adaptive bobsled program, the National Ability Center discontinued it.
That’s when Park City resident Dave Nicholls, who was also a part of the National Ability Center program, decided to begin the U.S. Adaptive Bobsled and Skeleton Association.
"We still had a bunch of athletes who were interested and had a vision of this becoming a Paralympic sport," he said.
The association formed four adaptive bobsled schools, drawing new athletes to the sport.
"These schools are specifically designed with our adaptive equipment for training and developing new athletes in the sport," he said. "The goal is to train brand-new drivers seated paraplegics, incomplete quads, and amputees."
The four schools are in four different countries Igls, Austria; Calgary, Canada; Sigulda, Latvia; and at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City.
"It’s really cool to see it mushrooming and growing," Nicholls said. "It’s like a dream come true. We’re not there yet. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve accomplished a lot."
The school uses modified bobsleds, each equipped with a roll bar, raised seats and a four-part harness system, all in the interest of protecting the riders.
"The roll cage is designed to maintain the integrity of one’s neck or spine, which has already been damaged through some type of injury," Nicholls said.
Lanningham added that the equipment has come a long way since he took his first trip down the track in 2003.
"We’re still working the bugs out," he said. "When we started, we didn’t have roll cages. It’s definitely safer than when we started."
Nicholls and his group are now working to get the sport included in the 2018 Paralympic Games.
"There’s a lot of working criteria that need to be satisfied," he said. "There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but we’ve already satisfied many of their requirements."
Though Lanningham doesn’t think he’ll compete in the Games, he said he’d love to see the group’s hard work pay off.
"It would be awesome," he said. "That’s what I’m banking on is seeing it through to that."
With multiple countries including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Latvia, Australia and New Zealand participating in the driving schools, the competition is heating up. On Saturday, the first-ever adaptive bobsled races will be held at the Utah Olympic Park, beginning between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.
Despite all the challenges the athletes face, Nicholls said the sport, at its core, is simply about going fast.
"You don’t feel disabled when you’re hitting five G’s going 80 miles per hour around this track," he said. "It’s a great sport for people who have a need for speed."
"It’s hard to compare to anything else," Lanningham added. "But if you could freeze a water slide and then shoot yourself out of a cannon, that’s about what it’s like."
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