Manitoba

Sitting volleyball helps active amputees get back in the game

Manitoba Adaptive Sport and Leisure held their first event last week at the Canada Games Sport for Life Centre. In connection with Volleyball Manitoba and Limb Loss Manitoba, they organized a free information and try-it session for sitting volleyball.

'Able-bodied or disabled, we're all on the same level here'

Paul Neufeld, left, brought his wife and kids along to try out a family-friendly game of sitting volleyball. (Aviva Jacob/CBC)

A new group is hoping to get Manitobans with mobility issues out of the house and having fun.

Manitoba Adaptive Sport and Leisure held their first event last week at the Canada Games Sport for Life Centre. In connection with Volleyball Manitoba and Limb Loss Manitoba, they organized a free information and try-it session for sitting volleyball.

The game is exactly what it sounds like. It's two teams of six with all of the regular rules of volleyball — but there are just a few adaptations. First and foremost, everyone is sitting directly on the floor. The court is also smaller than in standard volleyball and the net is lowered to accommodate the seated players.

At the professional level, the game is designed for people with mobility issues — most commonly amputations. But as far as recreational players go, the game is open to absolutely everyone.

"Able-bodied or disabled, we're all on the same level here," said Kerri McKee, co-founder of Manitoba Adaptive Sport and Leisure.

Sunday's event was a chance for everyone, regardless of ability, to get on a level playing field and try something new. (Aviva Jacob/CBC)

McKee is an above-the-knee amputee. She said sports were a big part of her life before she lost her leg over five years ago. Since then, it hasn't always been easy to find activities that suit her needs. But she's determined to find new ways to adapt.

"Since being an amputee I've had a lot of people saying, 'You can't do this anymore.' But sport has always been really important, whether that's finding a way to do it with my leg, my crutches or my wheelchair."

That's why she chose sit-down volleyball as the first activity for the group. She said it's a good way for others with mobility issues to start to get comfortable playing sports again.

Half a dozen people showed up to give the game a try on Sunday. For most, this was the first time they had participated in a sport since the accident or sickness that led to their amputation.

'Absolutely in love with the sport'

"I was an athlete before; I played lots of soccer. Just about any sport you could name I was up for trying it," said Paul Neufeld. "I'm open to trying new adaptive programs now that I'm an amputee."

Neufeld lost part of his left leg in a car accident about five years ago. Before Sunday, he thought a game like volleyball would just be a part of his past.

But when he heard about the chance to try sitting volleyball, he signed up on the spot. He even brought his wife and two kids along with him. He said within 30 minutes, he was "absolutely in love with the sport."

Official rules of the game require all braces and prosthetic limbs to be left off the court. (Aviva Jacob/CBC)

For both Neufeld and McKee this was a chance to just have fun and be themselves — without needing any outside help.

Sitting volleyball requires all players to remove any braces or prosthetics they use.

Wheelchairs and prosthetic legs and feet are all left at the perimeter of the court. McKee said it's actually pretty freeing. And it's even more freeing to have the chance to play a game with other amputees. She said there's safety in numbers.

Jim Harris, the other co-founder of the group, said that's the whole idea behind Manitoba Adaptive Sport and Leisure.

"We're all just trying to have fun together," said Harris. "I've seen this in other cities. I see pictures of groups getting together — amputees and other people with adaptive issues — having fun. So why don't we do it here? We can have fun here."

Harris said he has plenty of opportunities to talk about his own challenges with people who understand them, but what's missing from Winnipeg is a group dedicated to casual activities purely for enjoyment.

He said he really needs that in his life and he thinks others do, too. It could be as simple as meeting up to play cards or go bowling.

"You have to have a chance to let loose and laugh at yourself sometimes, especially with other people."

McKee and Harris have more events in mind and say they hope to organize some meetings soon.

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