The mission of Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports, USA is to provide multi-sport and recreation opportunities for individuals with a disability by facilitating, advocating, and developing a national community-based outreach program, providing resources and education, conducting regional and national competitions, and providing access to international competitions in conjunction with the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation.
Founded in 1956 as the National Wheelchair Athletic Association, the name of the organization was changed in 1994 to Wheelchair Sports, USA, and again in 2009 to Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports, USA to better reflect the organization's mission and goals. The initial impetus to organize Wheelchair Sports, USA, grew out of the interests of athletes with disabilities - many of whom were veterans of World War II. They wanted to participate in sports other than basketball, which had seen rapid growth in the early 1950's through teams sponsored by veterans hospitals and other rehabilitation agencies. General Omar N. Bradley was one of the leaders of the early efforts to develop wheelchair sports programs, principally for servicemen injured during the war. In the early days, many wheelchair basketball players saw participation in individual wheelchair sports as supplementary training for their primary interest in basketball. However, the WASUSA program appealed to even greater numbers of athletes with disabilities because it was able to incorporate women and quadriplegics (those with paralysis in upper as well as lower extremities); two populations that basketball could not reasonably accommodate at the time. Europe's first organized wheelchair sports program was introduced in 1948 by well-known neurosurgeon, Dr. Ludwig Guttman, founder of the Spinal Injury Center in Stoke-Mandeville, England. The first Stoke-Mandeville Games included only a handful of participants (26), and few events (shot put, javelin, club throw, and archery), but growth in both the number of events and participants came quickly. In 1952, a team from the Netherlands was invited to compete with the British team. This was the first International Stoke-Mandeville Games, an event that has been held annually ever since.
The administrative expenses of WASUSA were underwritten for many years by the Bulova Watch Company, the Bulova family, and the Bulova School of Watchmaking, whose executive director, Benjamin Lipton, served as Wheelchair Sports, USA, Chairman for the organization's first twenty-five years. The primary focus of WASUSA in the early years was on organizing annual national championship competitions and fielding USA teams for international competition. USA teams have competed in world championship competitions annually since 1960 in such countries as England, Israel, the Netherlands, Japan, Argentina, France, and a host of other nations. Since the early 1970's additional efforts were undertaken to organize WASUSA programs on more local and regional levels throughout the United States. Today, WASUSA is organized geographically into 14 regional associations, each responsible for developing local wheelchair sports programs and for conducting qualifying meets for national competitions.
The national offices of WASUSA remained in New York for twenty-six years before moving to Colorado Springs in 1982 to join the many other sports organizations comprising the U.S. Olympic Committee. The move to Colorado Springs and recognition by the U.S. Olympic Committee reflects a principal concern of WASUSA to provide athletic experiences for athletes with a disability paralleling those of the able-bodied, from novice through elite levels. With the move to Colorado Springs, the first professional staff in WASUSA's history were hired to administer the many ongoing programs as well as to develop new initiatives to promote wheelchair sports. WASUSA has realized major accomplishment in these past years. WASUSA athletes on several occasions have traveled to Colorado Springs and the U.S. Olympic Training Center to train alongside their able-bodied counterparts preparing for International level competition. On August 11, 1984, wheelchair athletes made their formal debut in the Olympic Games with the first-ever exhibition wheelchair track events held in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In 1988, a wheelchair athlete became the first woman to receive a gold medal in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. WASUSA played a principal role in conceiving and organizing the events with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and has continued to play a major role in each Summer Olympic competition throughout the 1990's and early 2000's. Since the creation of U.S. Paralympics by the U.S. Olympic Committee, WASUSA has continued to serve as a resource and voice in the movement.
Over the past couple of decades, WASUSA has expanded its offerings to junior athletes. Regional associations now conduct annual local competitions for youths aged 5 to 22. The WASUSA National Junior Disability Championships, the organizations largest annual event, was first held in July 1984. This event provided the first national program of competitions for junior athletes.
From its earliest beginnings to the present day, WASUSA has been directed and developed by athletes and disabled sports enthusiasts themselves, individuals with a first-hand understanding to the values of participation. By and large, the needs of the athlete with a disability are not addressed by the vast network of athletic programs available to able-bodied persons through our educational system and community recreation agencies. Instead, athletes with a disability have, with rare exceptions, developed their own resources and sports opportunities, from rules and governing structure to funding travel, equipment and other expenses of competition. Disabled sports enthusiasts are involved at all levels of decision-making in WASUSA and its constituent associations. WASUSA has remained essentially an all-volunteer organization, drawing on the energy and commitment of the people who also benefit from its programs. The dreams of individual athletes have been made possible through the efforts and dedication of pioneers such as Dr. Guttman and Lipton, and the countless other organizers, volunteers, friends, and supporters of sports for individuals with a disability throughout the United States and the rest of the world. With the continuing increase in public awareness, the future of adapted athletic competition is indeed bright.
In 2009 after long understanding that sporting events should be available and supported for all athletes with physical disabilities WASUSA officially changed its name to Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports, USA. This was a change in name and not in mission for the organization had welcomed Blind, CP and Amputee athletes to its Junior competition for many years. Currently, WASUSA hosts one of the largest national junior competitions for athletes with a disability in the United States. Additionally, it strives to grow and support adult-age athletes at both the regional and national level.