Wheelchair curling is a unique sport that can be played by a wide range of ability levels and ages. Unlike many traditional adapted sports that require a substantial amount of physical ability, strength and endurance, wheelchair curling is a stationary sport that requires less physical exertion. The World Curling Federation has established classification guidelines and eligibility criteria with focus on individuals who are non-ambulant or can only walk short distances. This includes athletes with significant impairments in lower leg/gait function, such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or double leg amputation, who use a wheelchair for daily mobility. While classification rules are in place to promote a level field of play at World Championship and Paralympic play, the sport can be played recreationally by athletes of varying ability levels.
There are currently 160+ curling clubs throughout 43 states across the country. Sixteen states currently have clubs with wheelchair curling experience. Information on wheelchair curling and a calendar of events can be found on the USA Curling website.
Strategy plays a critical role in the outcome of each game as players must determine how best to keep their stones closest to the button. Some players will aim for the button, while others may aim to knock other players’ stones out of position.
When players slide their stones, they use a special technique that involves a twist of the wrist. As the stone slides across the ice, it will “curl” or curve much like a bowling ball hooks down the lane at a bowling alley.
In traditional curling, once a player releases a stone, the brooms come into play. As the stone curls toward its intended target, team members may choose to use special brooms to sweep the surface of the ice in the stone’s path, which can cause the stone to change both speed and direction. The sweeping motion creates friction, which melts the ice and creates a thin layer of water that makes the stone curl less and travel farther.
These minor differences allow standing and wheelchair curlers to fully integrate and compete in recreational and club events together.
Unlike most sports, wheelchair curling does not require specialized wheelchairs or expensive adaptive equipment. Rather, each athlete utilizes his or her own personal wheelchair and a telescopic delivery stick to participate. Brakes are necessary to ensure a stationary position when delivering a stone. Power and manual wheelchairs are permissible.
The sport is played on a unique ice surface unlike that of hockey or figure skating. Icemakers employ a technique called “pebbling” in which small droplets of water are sprayed across the playing surface before each match, resulting in frozen pebbles. The resulting surface, coupled with the concave bottom of a curling stone, reduces friction and creates the curl of the stone.