Invacare Top End to Build Paralympic Chairs for China’s Athletes

Invacare Corp. has won a bid to build sports and everyday manual chairs for China's Paralympic athletes, the manufacturer has announced.

The agreement calls for China to purchase competition chairs from Invacare's Top End sports and recreation rehab division, as well as Top End Crossfire T6 chairs to be used when the athletes are not competing.

As part of the agreement, Invacare specialist Jim Black traveled to China recently to personally assess and fit China's elite athletes for the chairs they'll use to compete in basketball, tennis, racing, quad rugby, boccia, shooting, table tennis and archery. The 2008 Paralympic Games will be held in Beijing in September.

In all, China is purchasing 240 chairs for 130 elite athletes. While most elite athletes secure their own sponsors and equipment, China is one of the few countries in the world to purchase equipment for its Paralympians.

Said Top End Marketing Manager Mary Carol Peterson, "This is an exciting order for us. The Chinese Paralympic Committee was looking for the equipment that is going to help their athletes go for the gold, and they chose Invacare Top End.  With the help of our Chinese distributor, we will be directly involved in the fitting, building and servicing of these chairs."

Invacare indicated that most of the chairs will be manufactured at Top End's Pinellas Park, Fla., facility, while Invacare's Elyria, Ohio, facility will make the Crossfire and Transformer All Sport chairs.

Last week, Jim Black was among the Invacare staffers demonstrating Top End product at the consumer-focused Abilities Expo in Anaheim, Calif. As consumers waved hello and asked for his help in fitting them in new chairs, Black talked about his visit to China.

"They're young in the sport, but they're very knowledgeable, because they really believe that the equipment has more to do with being successful," he said. "That was one of the reasons that we got the bid. When you spec out a chair for them, they want to know every detail that there is, (such as) why you would do this size. It got really interesting... The Internet's done a lot for them, just seeing (what's out there). They're on the Internet a lot, and they ask a lot of questions."

Black said most of the athletes being fitted for chairs had had amputations or polio. Relatively few athletes had spinal cord injuries.

Though China's wheelchair sport programs are still in the emerging stages compared to other nations, Black said the country is eager to learn and is making a concerted effort to participate more fully on an international level.

"Everything's funded by the government when it comes to sports," Black said. Chinese athletes, he added, "train all day, every day. It's incredible. The problem is that they don't have a lot of international competition, because they don't travel as much. But now they're bringing in teams to play, and they're starting to travel. And they're really successful at it."

As a sports expert, Black spent a lot of time educating athletes and coaches about new technologies, equipment and competitive strategies. "Some of them, like the table tennis players, think they need folding chairs, because folding chairs are more accessible for them," Black said. "The education part of it, helping them to understand the efficiencies of a rigid-frame chair, those are the things they were hungry for and wanted to understand."

And despite their obvious motivation to excel at the Paralympic Games in their home country, Black believes Chinese athletes will be a strong force long after Beijing's closing ceremony.
"They're very creative and they're very passionate about what they do," Black said. "The future that they're looking at is way beyond (these) Paralympics. I would say in the next Paralympics, they're going to be a force to be reckoned with."
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