Skip to main content
Sarah Adam

Adam '13 becomes first woman named to the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team

Sarah Adam '13 would like you to fall in love with her in Paris. Really, she wants you to become a fan of the Paralympics, and in particular, her sport of wheelchair rugby. She will be the first woman to compete as a member of Team USA when the Paralympics opens in Paris in August.

Wheelchair rugby is coed, but there are few women. At the Tokyo Games in 2020, only four out of 96 wheelchair rugby athletes were women, according to NBC Sports.

Adam has always been an athlete. One of the things that brought her to Augustana was a berth on the softball team. The fact that she now competes in a wheelchair, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2016, has not made her less fierce.

Wheelchair rugby originally was called "Murderball" because of the physical contact and crashing wheelchairs. Adam has been flipped over and (accidentally) punched in the face.

Sarah Adam

She gives her brother, Jon Adam, some credit for her resilience, which she built while growing up in Naperville, Ill. “I think him pushing me in playing backyard baseball and basketball and football developed a lot of grit and determination in me and a refusal to be limited by my circumstance,” Adam said. “He was a year older and a lot bigger, but that never stopped me from competing against him.

"I think I take a lot of that into the way that I compete now. I don’t let my circumstances with MS or the fact that I’m a small female out on that court stop me."

Adam graduated from Augustana with a major in psychology, then entered graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis. She currently is an assistant professor of occupational science and occupational therapy at Saint Louis University.

Besides softball, she came to Augustana because she sensed the faculty would know who she was and would care about her progress. "And that absolutely played out during my time, where my professors were getting me connected to amazing opportunities," Adam said. "That helped me develop into the future occupational therapist that I am today and professor that I am today."

Doctors think that an injury and infection when Adam was a child may have caused the MS. Looking back, she said she had symptoms throughout high school, including numbness in her hand and fatigue.

Eventually, neurological symptoms popped up that were hard to ignore.

Just as she finished her master's in May 2016, she learned her official diagnosis of MS.

"We really want to make sure that the United States falls in love with the Paralympics."

Sarah Adam '13

But her continued love for sports proved to be a lifeline. While at Washington University, she had volunteered for a wheelchair rugby team to fulfill a community service requirement in the occupational therapy program. She loved the sport. She became a coach.

As her symptoms progressed, she became a player.

Athletes must have a disability that affects their arms and legs to be eligible for the Paralympics. Medical
professionals evaluate a player’s muscle and core strength, and assign them a classification number from .0 to 3.5.

"I fall in a 2.5, which means I'm kind of right in that middle range," Adam said. "As a mid-pointer, I have pretty good function in my arms and hands that allows me to be one of the primary ball carriers out on the court.

"One of the things about the Paralympics is, there's that extra bit of strategy in there. How do we utilize players of different functional abilities? Because we can only have eight points on the court at one time."

Adam would like to see adaptive sports offered to women more often. "A lot of therapists don’t really think about introducing sports to a newly injured female," she said. "But many of us have that competitive background and identity as an athlete that we need to reconnect with and is so important."

She said the Paralympics is growing, and her team wants to do well in Paris leading into Los Angeles 2028.

"We really want to make sure that the United States falls in love with the Paralympics," Adam said. "We want to make sure we show that the Paralympics is 'parallel' to the Olympics, and that's what we are.

"We're elite athletes. We train no differently, and our sports are just as competitive as the Olympics."

If you have news, send it to! We love hearing about the achievements of our alumni, students and faculty.