Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. It's goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

Burke's Wheelchair Games and the Spirit of Inclusion

August 25, 2015

Since Burke first opened its doors in 1915, sports and recreation have always been an integral part of life on campus. At the time, patients often spent months at Burke and physical activity was a way to help with their recovery as well as to pass the time.

Here’s a look at some of the early days, when Burke had a baseball team:

Archival Burke Photod 003

And areas where patients could enjoy recreation equipment:

In this tradition, in 1979 Burke established the Wheelchair Games. Thirty six years ago, there were few adaptive sports programs in our area or around the country. It was for this reason that Burke created the event, which gives those with physical impairments an opportunity to stay fit, enjoy sports, and compete with others who have similar physical challenges.

An athlete from Burke's first Wheelchair Games event:


In the decades since, there have been more and more wheelchair and adaptive sports events being introduced. But many of these events have become very competitive. Although the spirit of competition is a healthy one, Burke prides itself on the fact that the Wheelchair Games are more about a spirit of inclusion than about winning. Adults and kids are able to compete based on their age and ability.

So while the wheelchair games are quasi-competitive in that there is a competition with winners, the games were designed to offer a sense of inclusion for all ability levels rather than a fierce competition.


Each year, between 50 and 100 athletes come to White Plains to compete in the games. Participants come from all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut—as well as across the country. We have had athletes come from the Midwest in recent years to be part of this amazing and awe inspiring event.

Wheelchair athletes participate in separate divisions for Futures (six years of age and younger), Juniors (ages seven through 21) and Adults.


Track events include 20, 40, 60, 80, 100, 400, 800, and 1,500 meter races, and the slalom, which is an obstacle course. Field events include club, softball, javelin, shot put, and discus. There is also a table tennis competition event.

Trophies are awarded in various events, based on age and ability. Ability is determined by Burke physical and occupational therapists who volunteer to classify the athletes for their events.


Along with event awards, the Wheelchair Games also bestows the Maureen Ryan Carr Award to the athlete who shows the most spirit during the games and the John Lombardi Memorial Award to the athlete who shows the most determination.

The Maureen Ryan Carr award is named for a former Burke senior administrator who ran the games during her tenure and the John Lombardi Memorial Award is name for a former patient who also competed in the games. Members of the Lombardi family are on hand each year to award the Lombardi trophy in memory of John.

The Wheelchair games are produced entirely by community volunteers and Burke staff on their own time. Other volunteers come from local colleges and high schools, as well as service groups and individual contributors. More than 200 volunteers help to produce the Wheelchair Games every year.


In addition to the athletics, the Games feature carnival games, activities and food. There is musical entertainment all day as well as silent auctions and chance raffles. The event is free to the public and Burke encourages spectators to attend to cheer on the athletes.

I encourage everyone to come to the Games and experience the true spirit of participation that exudes here on campus each September. It’s heartwarming to see so many people from different paths in life coming together for a shared goal.


— Richard Sgaglio, Ph.D., Director of Marketing & External Relations at Burke Rehabilitation Center 



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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice. Thank you.

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