In the summer of 2016, Marchiano noticed something while watching the Paralympics: Some of the athletes she saw were using electronically powered wheelchairs, like hers.
She had assumed that adaptive sports were only for manual wheelchair users. This discovery led to research that resulted in creating a company called Sportable.
Founded in 2005, Sportable is an adaptive sports club for people with a disability or impairment and offers 16 different sports.
“I found Sportable at a very pivotal point in my life,” said Marchiano, who had just withdrawn from her doctorate program.
“I signed up for pretty much everything that I could that first year just to try out so many things that I didn’t even know were options or available to me before.”
She tried rowing, handcycling and archery, which were great for socializing, but didn’t quite fit what she was looking for. During her second year with Sportable, it received a grant to start a wheelchair rugby team and things changed.
“Finding Sportable and getting involved in adaptive sports just really transformed my life,” she said. “Since then ... so many opportunities have presented themselves.”
As a person who used a power wheelchair, Marchiano did not think she could participate in such an aggressive sport. Rugby players use manual chairs that they have to push themselves. That can be difficult for lower-functioning wheelchair users. She was eventually convinced by a Sportable employee to give the sport a shot anyway and, with some practice, she was able to join the team and work the new chair.
The revelation that she could push her own chair on the rugby court changed her life dramatically. She began practicing with a manual wheelchair in her day-to-day life and eventually moved away from the power chair altogether. Making the switch to the manual chair had an unexpected outcome.
“It’s a smaller chair, so I feel like people see me before they see the chair. With the smaller, more compact chair, I just feel more comfortable,” she said.