Wheelchair Racing: Back to Basics
Daniel Romanchuk, three-time winner of the men’s open Shepherd Center AJC Peachtree Road Race Wheelchair Division, shares what he loves about the sport and why beginners shouldn’t be intimidated to try it.
Every July 4, Shepherd Center sponsors the Wheelchair Division of the AJC Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. More than 60 world-class athletes from around the globe compete in this annual 10K event. This year, the race may have been postponed, but that doesn’t mean that training can’t continue at home. Daniel Romanchuk, three-time winner of the men’s open, shared what he loves about the sport and how people can still train safely even if they are a beginner.
Daniel, 21, has been involved in some type of sport since he was two years old when his mom, Kim, enrolled him in the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program in Baltimore, Maryland, near his hometown. Daniel was born with spina bifida, a type of neural tube defect that affects the spine where the neural tube does not close all the way, often resulting in damage to the spinal cord and nerves. From a young age, he was encouraged to give many sports a try until he found his passion. He tried everything from swimming and basketball to hockey and wheelchair racing.
Wheelchair racing clicked, and around 2015, Daniel decided to make it the primary sport he pursued. Since then, he has participated in global competitions like the 2016 Paralympics and has won numerous races, including the AJC Peachtree Road Race.
“I enjoy pushing myself to the limit,” Daniel says. “The Peachtree Road Race has always been a race everyone hears about and wants to compete in, so I wanted to try it and see how fast I could go.”
Even though large races can’t occur right now, Daniel has some advice on how to get started in wheelchair racing and stay fit while staying safe.
1. Don’t be intimidated to try it.
“At first, things may not be smooth, but just have fun with it,” Daniel says.
Just like Daniel tried many sports until something clicked, he encourages others to do the same and give themselves grace as they learn a new skill.
2. Get to know the wheelchair racing community.
“Everyone is so willing to help each other out,” Daniel says. “From my own experience, when I started training with the University of Illinois team and racers who had been doing this sport for years, it was daunting. But, they welcomed me instantly, and it has been an absolutely wonderful experience.”
For a socially distanced, virtual option to connect with the community, you can check out Daniel’s latest project. He co-hosts a weekly webinar along with Krige Schabort on the basics of wheelchair racing and equipment for Move United, a non-profit organization devoted to providing adaptive sports opportunities to wounded warriors, youth and adults with disabilities. You can visit Move United’s YouTube channel to watch the videos or register for the live-streamed events on Move United’s Facebook page so you can ask Daniel questions. You can also visit Move United’s website to view their locations across the country.
3. Keep up with strength and cardio training while you stay at home.
“Even if you don’t have a gym, you can use whatever you have around the house to train,” Daniel says.
He recommends using anything from five-gallon water jugs to bags of rice for some strength training repetitions – whatever you have available. When you are doing cardio training, Daniel recommends scouting out roads to ensure they are low traffic. As long as you keep a safe distance, he also advises having a partner with you in case you need assistance for any reason, such as your racing equipment malfunctioning. An added bonus is having an exercise buddy can help encourage you to continue training consistently. Finally, Daniel says you should always ensure you have the necessary safety gear on such as a helmet and flag to make yourself more obvious to surrounding people and/or cars.
4. Get back to basics.
“This is a great time to go back to basics and find a ‘new normal’ health routine,” Daniel says.
No matter what your fitness level or experience with wheelchair racing is, Daniel says that getting back to basics is key. Ask yourself what your goals are, be open-minded and have fun. That’s a great takeaway for sports or any other area of life.
Interview by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.