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An Expanding Role & New Rules

Reprinted from SNS May 2017

A new name and significant changes are in place as the adaptive track & field season kicks off for 2017

Big changes in adaptive track and field have already taken hold as one of the principal organizations in the sport broadens its scope under a new name and now plays by different rules.

The season started for the new Adaptive Track and Field USA (formerly known as Wheelchair Track and Field USA or WTFUSA) in March. But it won’t be until its end in September before ATFUSA organizers can fully determine how changes, like the addition of video replay for rules violations and a new “B” time/distance standard, that accompanied the name change have impacted their sport.

Among those organizers is ATFUSA Chairman Phil Galli, who has been involved in adaptive track and field since his daughter’s traffic accident in 1991. Jessica was 7 years old at the time of the life-changing event, after which she became a four-time Paralympian in track and field with her dad’s help.

“I coached her through high school,” says Galli, who’s been a paraplegic coach and official in track and field and swimming and has served in his current role since 2006. “She has set world records in the 200, 400 and 800 meters.”


Now, to understand the name change to ATFUSA, Galli offers a relatively recent history of the sport. 

Prior to 2000, WTFUSA was the national governing body for wheelchair track and field in the United States. After 2000, the United States Olympic Committee and U.S. Paralympics became the national governing body for paraplegic track and field. 

When that happened, a cerebral palsy sports organization and the Disability Programs and Resource Center’s Accessible Media Program, groups that had been part of the national governing body, ceased their involvement. Galli says WTFUSA took over both organizations’ athletic programs.

“We started to take on more and more responsibility for offering these athletes standards and keeping their records,” Galli says. “We finally decided that if we were doing the role for these and the other disability groups, we might as well align our name to the role we are playing.”

Hence, the present day’s ATFUSA, which is a Texas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was announced. It has a board of 12 individuals, consisting of a chairman, vice chairman, secretary, treasurer, track chairman, field chairman, cerebral palsy chairman, high school chairman, athlete representative, officials chairman, pentathlon chairman and record chairman.

The name change has helped ATFUSA to further expand its influence across the country. For instance, ATFUSA is a national governing body member of Adaptive Sports USA (ASUSA), which has chapters nationwide. 

“(ASUSA) offers its chapters support in the form of insurance and multisport games support to host paraplegic meets in athletics, swimming, table tennis, archery and powerlifting,” Galli says. 

The organization holds sanctioned events in 16 states and also acts as the national governing body for wheelchair road racing. Galli says the ATFUSA sets three levels for the events beginning with Level 1 (L1), which he describes as “a fun meet to get acquainted to the sport.”

The next level, L2, is a qualifying meet, and L3 is what Galli calls “a record-setting level event.” He says L2 and L3 events allow junior athletes to meets standards and qualify for July’s Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals in Middleton, Wis.

Adopting IPC Rules

Along with its new name, ATFUSA instituted rule changes. Some of the rule changes were made to conform to International Paralympic Committee (IPC) rules.

“We first adopted the rule changes from the IPC. This year, there are a few rule changes coming off the Paralympic [Games]… We then determine if the Junior age groups, U11 and U14, or the Master age groups, [M]35, [M]50 or [M]60, should have exceptions to those rules,” Galli says. “Wherever possible, we try not to create exceptions, but in track we offer exceptions to youth, for example … requiring (athletes to use) starting blocks, or in field, what implement weights they throw. In the Master age groups, we set the implement weights they throw. We also expand the [number of] events certain classes can do over the IPC rules.”

Galli believes ATFUSA’s rule changes have already produced positive results for the sport, including what he calls “the most significant” change — video.

“Video can be used to determine if athletes are violating the rules,” he says. “Video has been slowly introduced to verify calls on the track or in the field, but we are now in a time where video can be the primary violation determination.” 

Galli adds that the conclusions reached via video replays don’t have to be “agreed to by the officials on the field of play.”

The chairman says another rule change instituted this year will hopefully make going to nationals an easier decision for some junior athletes. In the past, athletes have made the standard in some events but not in others. With a limited number of events, some families have determined it wasn’t worth the cost to attend to only compete in a few events.  

ATFUSA established a “B” standard this year to try and help with that issue. If an athlete has made one “A” standard in track or field, then he or she will be able to run/roll in any other track event(s) in which he or she has achieved a “B” standard.

More Opportunity

Besides the changes to the competition guidelines, Galli says one of the most significant differences for this year has nothing to do with the rules.

He believes their partnership with USA Track and Field (USATF) will make the most impact by allowing any paraplegic athlete in the country an opportunity to compete within “reasonable driving distance” from his or her home.

“It offers USATF athletes a path to the Paralympics, which they never had before because Adaptive Sports USA is a member of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation,” Galli says. “For the first time, USATF paraplegic athletes have the ability to be on an international junior sport team and compete internationally. We will offer the first integrated games with USATF this summer in Middleton, Wisconsin.”

Galli acknolwedges it’s too early to tell what other advantages this year’s alterations will have on the sport and says they’ll see the fruits of the changes at the end of the year. 

Standing behind the rule changes, Galli notes there’s been no dissention in the ATFUSA rank and file. He says this year’s revisions are “refining” changes made in 2014 and “do not present any controversial changes.” As evidence of the lack of controversy surrounding this year’s name and rule changes, Galli points to the positive feedback this year’s refinements have generated. 

“The name change and the new ATFUSA website have gotten very positive comments,” he says. “For years, parents of cerebral palsy, amputee, blind and cognitive athletes have felt like second-class citizens. These athletes also had trouble finding the information they needed to compete. With the name change and the website, hopefully our whole paraplegic athlete community across all classifications will be given equal treatment and have a place to find the information they need to compete and succeed.”

To help people understand the changes, ATFUSA has produced a document called What Has Changed. It helps athetes and coaches to identify specifically what’s changed and to develop a way to successfully compete. 

For more information, a list of all the rule changes and to find the What Has Changed document, visit


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