In the U.S., an astounding 300,000 people live with spinal cord injuries (SCI). Despite the numbers, it’s hard for athletes who use wheelchairs to find outdoor and sports equipment to get back to the slopes, the court, or the trail.
To address this disparity, the Kelly Brush Foundation launched the Active Project, the first web-based platform where the SCI community can connect, share, and learn.
The online tool lets people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities find facilities, equipment, and resources to get them biking, skiing, surfing, shooting hoops, dribbling a puck, and more.
It’s also the first online community where adaptive athletes can connect with each other, and with possible funding for adaptive sports equipment.
Active Project, launched in January 2023, is the brainchild of the Kelly Brush Foundation, which has granted over $6 million to help people with spinal cord injuries access adaptive sports equipment and experiences.
In addition to connection, the site provides an information hub for adaptive equipment and events. This includes a gear swap for handcycles and monoskis, a locator map for adaptive sports across the U.S., and instructional videos to help athletes understand the subtleties of the equipment they need to get back out there.
About the ‘Active Project’ Platform
Three months in, there are 700 people on the site and more than 300 programs for adaptive athletes, though according to program founders, that number could swell exponentially. Anyone with a mobility disability is welcome on the site. So are support staff, including able-bodied volunteers, friends, and family members.
The site is also designed to be a resource for physical and occupational therapists, and a place where support givers and caregivers can connect with one other and adaptive participants.
Kelly Brush program manager Greg Durso spearheaded the project. He’s an accomplished mountain biker and skier who uses a wheelchair following a 2009 sledding accident. Durso says he didn’t know about adaptive sports equipment until 5 to 6 years into his injury.
“If you get injured, you have to depend on your therapist to teach you both how to do things, and to let you know what’s out there,” Durso said. “If you’re lucky enough to go to a top-tier rehab and you get the itch to be active, they’re more likely to be able to teach you about adaptive sports equipment, and from there you’ll figure it out. We hope this site will help level the playing field and help all spinal cord patients who want to get back to being active as soon as possible.”
To develop the site content and architecture, Durso and the Kelly Brush team worked with SCI patients who identify as active and those who identify as athletes. The team gathered information both from newly injured athletes and SCI athletes with decades of experience. Because SCIs are diverse, and each individual has unique abilities and requirements post-injury, the site features instructional videos that break down the differences in gear — like handcycles, for example.
Adaptive Gear, Events, and More
And because adaptive sports gear can be both hard to find and expensive — a new adaptive bike can be $15,000 — Durso and the Active Project team are most excited about the growing used gear marketplace. Equipment classifieds will help athletes upgrade and try new sports by redistributing adaptive sports gear. (Say you are an amputee and only need a left shoe or left ski … through this platform, another athlete could take advantage of the mate!)
While the interface looks basic, there is a lot of information. And in the coming weeks, the site will add both direct messaging and forums where athletes can connect by sport, disability, interest, and more.
Active Project will also host an events calendar searchable by sport and location. And the foundation is working on a rating system for adaptive routes and trails, a nationwide map of adaptive-friendly trails, beach access points, courts, gyms, and links to organizations that provide that infrastructure.
“If you’ve been playing adaptive rugby for 10 years and your shoulders are starting to go, this site is where you can learn about other sports that might be gentler on the shoulders,” Durso said. “It’s also a place to ask, ‘What kind of quad grips do I need with limited hand strength?’ You can’t just Google that.”