Performance and Wellbeing of Paralympic Athletes

Research at the University of Brighton has had a strong focus towards improving performance and safeguarding the well-being of Paralympians. Professor Nick Webborn’s research impacted regulatory frameworks of Paralympic sporting bodies with rule changes being implemented and strategies being changed. A strong thread in this research was the link between optimizing performance, environmental extremes and consequently, safeguarding athletes’ health.

 

Research on cooling amongst Paralympic athletes was funded in 2003 by UK Sport to enable UoB researchers to work with the British Paralympic Association to develop heat and acclimatisation strategies for use in the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Further funding from UK Sport enabled Nick Webborn to be part of a multi-disciplinary Beijing Acclimatisation Group that, between 2006 and 2008, developed the acclimatisation strategy for the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games.

The research on pre-cooling as a coping strategy for competition in hot environments has also benefitted elite athletes. The findings were used by the USA Olympic committee to guide its strategy for its athletes competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The USA Olympic Committee’s preparation manual ‘Preparation for Competing in Heat and Humidity’ that advises coaches and athletes on competing in heat and humidity contains four recommendations, all of them based on referenced sport science research publications written by leading researchers and institutions in the UK and Europe. University of Brighton’s research publications underpin three of the four recommendations for cooling strategies, including cooling vests, whole-body immersion and ice packs/towels. The manual notes the recommendations will help to delay and potentially prevent body core temperature from rising to a point where it impairs performance.

The Brazilian Olympic Committee also acknowledged the importance of the research, in particular the underpinning research publications mentioned above, and that this research is currently being used as evidence in devising pre-cooling and heat acclimatisation strategies designed to improve performance in the 2016 Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Dr Gary Brickley has provided physiological support to Paralympic athletes over the past 5 Paralympic Games, being associated with 23 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze medals.  In preparing these athletes, he has used acute and chronic heat and hypoxic stressors. With the extremely hazardous conditions expected in Tokyo for the 2020 Paralympic Games, the effects of heat stress on Paralympians is expected to be even greater than previous Games and so it is expected this research will act as a platform for future work in the field.