Adaptive Bobsledder Hopes To Compete In 2018 Paralympics

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A Wichita, Kan., native is hoping to pave the way for other disabled athletes by driving an adaptive bobsled in the 2018 Winter Paralympics. There is only one problem: adaptive bobsled is not yet an official Paralympic sport. But according to some, it is only a matter of time.

The Accident

He is a lifelong athlete with a love for competition. At Wichita’s Campus High School, he quarterbacked the football team and he played outfield on the baseball team. But in April 2008, during Lance Roop’s junior year, that came to an end.

The whole thought of the fact that I’m paralyzed ... is just totally out of my mind. It’s all about getting down there safe. You’re going so fast.

Lance Roop, adaptive bobsledder

“I was in a car accident, yep," Roop said. "I was on my way to school. I was driving. I remember the last thing in my head thinking, ‘Why ain't I listening to the radio? I just got my radio fixed.’ And I looked up and I thought I saw something running out of the ditch. It ended up being a dog actually and it just startled me, and I just grabbed the wheel, went spinning and ended up paralyzed.”

Roop was paralyzed from the chest down. Now, at 23, he's a sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma where he plays wheelchair basketball and is on the wheelchair track team. But he says those sports aren't competitive enough for him, so last fall he went online and found a form for people interested in becoming Paralympians. The form listed all of the official Paralympic sports, like wheelchair curling and alpine skiing.

"I just checked every single one and ended up getting a call about bobsledding,” Roop said.

The call was from Dave Nicholls, director of the United States Adaptive Bobsled and Skeleton Association. He asked Lance to come try his luck at bobsledding.

"Approximately 10 years ago," recalled Nicholls, who is also a paraplegic and a bobsledding pioneer, "I was invited up to the Olympic Park as one of four disabled athletes to be guinea pigs, if you will, and participate in driving the first adaptive sled that ever existed."

Adaptive Bobsledding And The Paralympics

So what exactly is an adaptive bobsled? It looks just like the traditional two-man bobsled but with a roll cage on top, like you would see on a go-kart. It also has a four-part harness that holds the driver in the sled.

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“When you’re hitting 4 or 5 Gs at 70, 80, 90 mph and the sled is up on its side," Nicholls explained, "if you don’t have the physical strength or ability, which some of these guys don’t have, so they need the four-part harness system to hold them secure in their seat.”

Nicholls says the USABSA is the main force in the United States in promoting, recruiting and fundraising for adaptive bobsled. And while huge strides are being made in the sport, they have yet to reach all of the qualifications set by the International Paralympic Committee that would make it an official Paralympic sport. Nicholls says he thinks bobsled could be a full medal sport in the Paralympic games in the near future.

Even though the USABSA with all our athletes has been rallying the troops, if you will, and doing this for the past 10 years, it's really only in the last three years that international governing body of the sport — the FIBT — has taken us seriously as disabled athletes and taken the challenge to meet all this criteria that IPC requires," Nicholls said. "So we're well on our way. The word on the street is that at the very least we’ll be an exhibition sport in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.”

Lance Roop: Rookie Bobsledder

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And that’s good news for Roop, who has his sights set on competing in 2018, even though he’s fairly new to the sport.

I can still remember the whole track right now,” Roop said.  “You start left, right, left, right, straightaway, circle, left, right, left, left, right. It's pretty fun. I like it a lot, I guess. I’ve only done it five times and I’ve crashed two of the five times but I still made the team so that’s all that matters."

Roop began sled training in November in Calgary, on the track used in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Roop’s responsibilities as the driver include transferring himself from his wheelchair into the bobsled, which must be done in a minute or less. After lifting himself out of his wheelchair and onto the roll cage, Roop scoots forward and down into the sled. Roop says he takes off his tennis shoes to make that easier. He stows them in the sled next to his thighs. I asked him if his feet get cold.

"You’d think they would, but that’s the good thing about not be able to feel them I guess,” Roop answered .

Lance Roop (far right, holding up No. 1) with his teamamtes. (Courtesy of Lance Roop)
Lance Roop (far right, holding up No. 1) with his teamamtes. (Courtesy of Lance Roop)

Roop’s first run in a bobsled was in Calgary in November. He describes the experience of going down the track as “nuts.”

“I made it to the bottom, and I made it down there pretty fast and we were shiny side down, which is our heads up and not on the side,” Roop said.

That run was one of the safer ones. The next time down, he crashed.

“When we crashed, they actually forgot to pin my roll cage, so I came out a little bit and ended up blackening up my eye a little bit, but it wasn’t too bad,” Roop said.  “You just hold on and ride it out and pretty soon you’re at the bottom and someone with big old eyes is asking you if you’re OK and you say 'Ya' and you get  out and you go back down again.”

Inventors Of The Sport

Roop says the speed, the excitement and the potential danger help him forget he’s a paraplegic.

“In the bobsled going down, it’s unexplainable, really,” Roop said.  “You’re really not thinking about anything besides getting down there, getting to the bottom. The whole thought of the fact that I’m paralyzed and the fact that the guy behind me is an amputee, missing a leg or whatever, is just totally out of my mind. It’s all about getting down there safe. You’re going so fast.”

Roop says he plans on making bobsledding and wheelchair athletics a big part of his future through continued training and fundraising. He will be in Austria and then Switzerland next week to attend additional driving schools. If he does well there, he could be one of three athletes chosen to represent the United States in the first ever World Cup for Paralympic bobsled at the FIBT ParaSport Official World Cup in Igls, Austria, which runs from Jan. 17-24.

“We’re running with it, you know, just being inventors of the sport,” Roop said.  “And we take a lot of pride in it, so we like to go over to Europe and show them what we’re about.”


This segment aired on January 10, 2015.


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