Working out in a wheelchair


Health & Fitness

May 02, 1999|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Special to the Sun

With basketball season over, teammates Jim Leatherman and Claude Hall will have to depend on summer-league games to keep playing the pick-and-roll brand of the sport they love.

Meanwhile, they head to the diamonds -- Hall to play catcher on a softball team and Leatherman to help coach his 10-year-old son's baseball team.

That's not so remarkable -- except when you realize that both men pursue their sports from a wheelchair.

They're members of the Maryland Ravens, a highly competitive wheelchair basketball team. Leatherman, a management specialist for the Social Security Administration, also scuba dives, teaches skiing to the disabled and plays racquetball. Hall has swum, done wheelchair track and tried his hand -- literally, since he only has one hand -- at archery.

Leatherman was 6 when a train severed his legs close to the hips. Hall was born with congenital anomalies. He has legs, but they don't extend past what should be his thighs, and he only has one hand; the other arm ends just above the elbow. But both men stay as physically active as possible -- and plenty is possible.

Leatherman, who weighs 150 pounds, says: "Every time I move, for all intents and purposes, I'm bench-pressing 150 pounds. Most folks that are chair users, if they're active in participating in normal life activities -- if they work, if they go to the movies -- they're working out. You'll see a lot of folks who from the belly up go out like a V. They're working out all the time."

He's never gone in for weightlifting, but once, when a friend coaxed him into it, Leatherman tried it and bench-pressed 300 pounds. Until recently, he adds, he lived in a Cape Cod house, and just getting himself up and down the stairs was a fitness routine, not to mention playing with his son and 7-year-old daughter.

Hall, 23, prefers a competitive arena to stay in shape -- preferably one with two buckets at the ends. He started playing wheelchair basketball at 16, working his way up to the Ravens through the Metro League.

"I love the competition, and I love to give it my all," he says. "It's like the NBA. We're like one family before we hit the court, then -- if we're playing amongst each other -- we're at each other's throats. We like to win."

Hall, who is unemployed after working with the Association for the Severely Handicapped for five years, finds a chance for extra exercise with his volunteer work for the Ravens' Disability Awareness Program, which visits schools and targets at-risk students. By showing off his considerable basketball skills to students, Hall imparts a lesson about overcoming adversity and about stereotypes of handicapped people.

Hall eats normally and depends on a schedule that includes playing basketball almost every day to keep extra weight off.

Leatherman, though, shares a thought common to every middle-aged athlete. "I'm approaching 40 and I'm recognizing that 40 is not kind in terms of my midsection. I'm conscious of it to the point of not indulging in a lot of junk food and adding vegetables to my diet. Before, I could eat, drink or whatever and I wouldn't gain a pound."

Both men turn their need to use a wheelchair to their advantage. Leatherman is bugged by the perception that if you're in a wheelchair, "you're just sitting there." He would love to have a room with just a track in it, and put people into a wheelchair and tell them to push the chair around for 15 minutes "because that's a workout. You burn a ton of calories."

Hall likes to play a team that hasn't seen him in action before. "They don't know what to expect from me," he says. Teams quickly learn, to their dismay, not to leave Hall unguarded no matter where he is. "I'll come out and be on the baseline, and they won't expect me to hit that."

Pub Date: 05/02/99

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