An Interview with World Disability Darts Association Chairman and Inventor Russ Strobel
As it often is in life it is individuals who come together and with dogged determination achieve the things in life that inspire all of us.
This is maybe the case of Russ Strobel and the WDDA (World Disability darts Association) which is a not for profit group that promotes and advocates for the inclusion of disabled and more specifically wheelchair bound players into the game of darts along with their 'able bodied' brethren.
Their hard work and diligence has paid off as they have successfully lobbied the World Darts Federation to officially sanction a lower board height for wheel chair bound players and WDDA chairman Russ Strobel has invented something called the 'Wildfire 137' which is a dart frame that allows a disabled and non-disabled person to both play uninhibited on the same dart frame. His invention works so well it has caught the attention and support of some of the bigger darts manufacturers such as Winmau and Puma.
I first became aware of the WDDA and it's efforts when a new section appeared for it on the Darts Nutz Forum. I immediately saw that this wasn't about watering things down but truly about inclusion and sharing the love of darts and so I made inquiries about doing an interview for an article to promote their cause. I was thrilled to find out I would be interviewing Russ Strobel himself. Here is the conversation. I hope you all enjoy.
The WDDA has managed to have the WDF officially sanction a lower dart board height for wheelchair bound players. How much difficulty was there in convincing people and getting this done?
It has been a four year journey which has ended with the formation of the WDDA in response to the WDF ruling. My name is Russ Strobel Chairman of WDDA, I began the campaign with a 15 page submission as a darts coach when I read in the training manual that as a coach we couldn't reasonably expect a child under a certain height to throw at the normal height board. Bells rang and I began making calculations and so the campaign for recognition of the lowered board height and the right for it to be used in direct competition with able-bodied players began.
In July 2010 I met with 17 Darts Australia delegates from around the country and presented the case and displayed the Wildfire 137 concept and equipment designed to proved the rule changes could work. It was passed unanimously and it has grown from there.
With the Wildfire 137 and how it functions I suspect that this campaign is not simply about allowing wheelchair players into the game, but to allow anyone who loves darts to play and be able to play against each other, regardless of whether they are in a wheelchair or not. Am I correct in this thinking?
The sport of darts has a truly supportive social structure that is beneficial for those within our community that have found themselves isolated in some way whether it be through accident, illness or age. Darts by its very nature is therapeutic even if only practiced at home. The meditative nature of throwing darts at a dartboard has found many familiar with the sport turn to it during times of trauma. Many are fortunate that they recover from an accident or overcome one of life's stresses but many have to learn to live with permanent life changes. We are simply pointing out through the WDDA the opportunities that now exist to be part of a supportive and fun sporting community.
The Wildfire in Action!
The Satellite in Action
Maybe explain a little about the Wildfire 137?
The Wildfire 137 uses a rotating backboard with both official board heights affixed one on either side. The unique rear counter-weighted frame then made it possible on the portable frame to incorporate flat oche sides and clear movement for a wheelchair to the board for dart retrieval and scoring on the scoreboard. It has always received an overwhelmingly positive response when seen but players both able-bodied and wheelchair.
There is also something called 'The Satellite' what is it , what does it do, and how does it work?
Once the Wildfire 137 began appearing on the Internet I received emails from people keen to have something to offer players who struggle to hold or throw a dart, dealing with the likes of Cerebral Palsy and Parkinson's Disease or arthritis but who would still like to experience the challenge of darts. During a long drive between Brisbane and Melbourne the design process began and over the ensuing 12 months the pendulum based game based on the proportions of a dart board but transposed onto a 1.2m table was created and refined . A player swings a magnetic pendulum that is attached to central vertical mast, the pendulum after one obligatory revolution of the table scores by magnetically clicking and stopping against the table's edge. The Satellite tabletop has braille bump dots that indicate the score for the vision impaired and is suitable for players with almost any level and type of disability.
Is there any reason the next Phil Taylor can't be throwing from a wheel chair? Once the board is lowered are there any distinct advantages/disadvantages to being in a wheelchair and playing darts?
There is no reason at all why the next Phil Taylor couldn't be a wheelchair player. The new ruling acknowledges that it is both fair and equivalent for a wheelchair player. The calculations give neither advantage nor disadvantage that is true meaning of the word “fair” and why it has been a long campaign, there were a lot of things to consider.
I just registered to be a WDDA member and I do not use a wheel chair. Is that OK? Should we encourage more non-wheel chair bound people to register?
Registration is open to everyone regardless of disability. The WDDA has been formed to provide information to carers, organizations the seasoned dart player as well as to host competitions give seminars and organize events. The rule changes affect all of us whether we throw from a wheelchair or not and whether we play darts or not. It's about spreading the word on opportunities that now exist like Wildfire throughout the world. The WDDA is here try to contribute something that may help improve the physical, mental and emotional well-being of those within our communities. All who have come across information on the WDDA should help spread news of our existence.
You have had a couple of solid victories with the WDF sanctioning and the Wildfire 137 being developed. What is the next big goal on the horizon for the WDDA?
To host our first event before mid 2013 and obtain strong support from players and disability support organizations. Good media coverage would follow without doubt and that in turn would get the word out there, and that's the bottom line.
What about your personal involvement? How did you become a part of the WDDA?
I am writing this as Founder and Chairman of the WDDA which has been a progression from dart player, dart coach, campaigner and designer as well as Disability Support Officer for Darts Australia and Winmau.
What potential in terms of popularity among the disabled community do you think there is for darts?
There are 250,000,000 people around the world with disability. Most who have tried darts on the Wildfire 137 or Satellite table are keen to play more.
Consider this even if 0.01% took it up that would 25,000 new players not to mention carers and families of someone with disability. Remember most who try it are keen to play more that's an awful lot more than just 0.01% !!!
Thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. Is there anything else you would like to say or tell us about?
The WDDA is a not for profit organization that has a Board of Administrators would have the ability and desire to shine a light on opportunities for those with disability. We can offer help with mediation, information, coaching, health and well being. If we can't help we will do our best to find someone who can.
My sincere thanks to Darts Australia, the WDF, Winmau, Puma and the Board of Administrators for there encouragement and support.
I hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about the work Russ Strobel and the WDDA are doing to not only help the disabled community, but also everyone who loves the wonderful game that is darts and growing it for all of us, regardless if we walk up or roll up to the oche.
If you would like to learn more, or possibly get involved you can visit them at the following places.
Also, if you enjoyed this as well as some of the other articles I have written you might also enjoy my darts-centric blog..
Thank you all for reading!!