No matter what circumstances lead to their wheelchair lives, one thing is for sure—they can take you out on the table!
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing the passionate spirit of Jeff Dolezal, President of the non-profit National Wheelchair Poolplayers Association (NWPA). Jeff knows all too well the challenges of disabilities. Having started his pool career at the age of 12, friendly wagers soon earned him enough “pocket change” for incidentals. Entering the Military right after high school, he continued earning supplemental income with his fellow service members until the fateful day his life changed forever.
On April 20th, 1980, a motorcycle joyride with friends culminated in a disastrous encounter with a concrete mailbox which left 19 year old Jeff a high-level paraplegic. During his long and tedious rehabilitation, he observed fellow “wheelers” in his rehab unit shooting pool, and knew right then that as soon as his strength returned he would be “at the table” again!
Sometimes events like this can enhance lives in the wake of what may seem a lost cause.
Thus it was for Jeff who once said, “I couldn’t get a date before the accident—now I find out that girls dig guys in chairs—REVELATION!” And with that, he was able to marry both pool and love! Along with new bride Kathy—and matching Muecci cues—he moved across the country in 1987 and ended up pursuing a career serving his veterans with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).
Putting pool on hold while building his family and career, he caught the pool bug again seven years later.
Seeing a notice in a magazine for the 1994 National Wheelchair 9 Ball Championship in Cleveland, he was off and rolling. That trip was what gave Jeff the drive to increase his knowledge, learning about all the aids available to chair players. There are specialized handgrips, cue extensions, extendable bridges, no-hands-required bridges and much more! Continuing to pursue his love of pool, he eventually studied with Fran Crimi, BCA master pool instructor in 2003 where he himself became a recognized BCA instructor. Also during this time, he attended Predator Pool School with Dragon Promotion’s Charlie Williams and superstar Mika Immonen.
In 2006, he accepted the appointment of President of the NWPA, with a mission statement: “DEDICATED TO ENCOURAGING, DEVELOPING AND REGULATING WHEELCHAIR BILLIARDS”—the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) equivalent to disabled players. His efforts with this organization have inspired and helped many with disabilities to rise up, compete with anyone and gain confidence and knowledge for the sport they love.
During our interview, I asked many questions regarding the differences that are endured by those playing from a seated position as well as Jeff’s personal preferences, habits etc. What he told me was enlightening to say the least. Here are a few tidbits to help us get a little reality on the subject of shooting from the seat!
1. Unlike non-disabled players, wheelchair players strive to leave the cue ball somewhere closer to the rails—mid-table is problematic for them.
2.Wheelchair players many times have an advantage over opponents because of a preconceived idea that they can’t play well.
3. 50-60% of the NWPA’s members are not only disabled, but are also Veterans.
4. Upper body balance is one of the largest factors of wheelchair play.
5.There are power chairs available which enable some to play who, without it, could not.
6. Many wheelchair players use a side arm stroke.
7. The underhand stroke is quite common. In fact the current WPA World Wheelchair 9-Ball champion, Jouni Tähti of Finland uses this type of stroke.
8. Jeff personally has personalized his chair to hold anything and everything he might need during a match. “This way,” he says, “I maintain my rhythm without having to go get something—it’s all right here!”
9. Jeff’s extension offers him a whopping 72” length!
10. Many individuals who have significant upper limb disabilities can play the right tools and adaptive equipment.
Backed by and alongside the PVA, in coordination with the BCA and more, NWPA has created the ways and means for those pool loving spirits to thrive. The NWPA sanctions eight to 12 regional events a year, which culminate in a National Championship, and at times an International Championship, many having been aired by ESPN. The organization is also the National Governing Body for wheelchair billiards through Wheelchair Sports U.S.A., the BCA and is a member of the World Pool Association (WPA).
With the goal of encouraging persons with disabilities to play, they hold clinics and fundraisers throughout the country and actively seek players, associate members and sponsors to help their endeavors.
Those wishing to offer a helping hand via donations, sponsorships, or the like to this wonderful organization can email Jeff Dolezal directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.