Paralympic Sports for Cerebral Palsy Athletes

Logo of the International Paralympics
International Paralympic Logo

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympic Games will soon begin and it is a great opportunity to learn about the many adaptive recreational and competitive sports for individuals with cerebral palsy. Both the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games are always held 10 days after the Olympic Games and many people may not know athletes with cerebral palsy compete in a variety of Paralympic sports. This will be the 16th Paralympic  Games taking place between August 24th and September 5th, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Every four years the Paralympic Games are a fantastic opportunity to see all the sports that individuals with cerebral palsy compete in. All of these athletes with cerebral palsy began as recreational athletes and progressed in their sport to the world stage. Athletes with cerebral palsy are classified according to their sport and motor function.

Our friends at the Cerebral Palsy International Sports & Recreation Association have created amazing resources to help you better understand the various Paralympic and adaptive sports, as well as what sports are best suited for different physical abilities. In the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we are happy to share this information with you here!

Check out the variety of sports we’ve highlighted here, and if something sparks an interest, look for opportunities in your community and with your local adaptive sports organization or Paralympic Sport Club to participate. You can learn more at,

Join us in cheering on all the athletes competing in the Tokyo Paralympic Games with the most television coverage to date: 


Below is a list of Summer Paralympic sports that athletes with cerebral palsy compete in:

Archery: Archery has been a Paralympic sport since the first Paralympics were held in Rome in 1960. It is both a recreational and competitive sport that is suitable for those individuals with cerebral palsy of all GMFCS levels and abilities.

Athletics:  Also known as Track and Field, is a very popular Paralympic category for athletes with cerebral that includes both ambulatory and seated athletes and encompasses a wide range events. Track events include sprints, longer distances and relay races for different classes of ability level. Field events include long jump, club throw, discus, shot put and javelin also differentiated by functional classification.

US Cerebral Palsy Paralympic Track & Field Athletes – Tokyo 2020

Alexa Halko

Eva Houston

Nicholas Mayhugh

Jaleen Roberts

Badminton: Para Badminton is making its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Played both recreationally and competitively, para badminton involves using a lightweight racquet to hit a shuttlecock or “birdie” over a net. This sport is enjoyed by both wheelchair users and ambulatory athletes and competition includes individual, doubles and mixed doubles.

Boccia: Similar to Bocce and Bowls, where the individual throws or rolls the ball as close as possible to a target ball, Boccia is played individually and as team sport. This popular Paralympic sport was created for individuals who have more significant impairments as a result of disability with the requirement that athletes must have impairment to all four limbs to participate. Athletes with cerebral palsy make up  the majority of competitors

Canoe: Paracanoe made its debut at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. Para athletes of all abilities can compete in ParaCanoe and are divided into two boating categories: Kayak, which uses a double-bladed paddle, and Va’a boat which is propelled by a single-bladed paddle and on a canoe stabilized by outriggers. Paracanoe athletes primarily need upper body coordination to paddle and steer the canoe.

Cycling: Para Cycling, or adaptive biking, as most recreational riders would know it, is a Paralympic sport that is inclusive of cerebral palsy athletes of a variety of GMFCS levels in both road and track events. Events include: Road race, time trials, hand cycling (team relay), tandem sprint, team sprint, individual track and scratch races.

US Cerebral Palsy Paralympic Cycling Athlete: Tokyo 2020

Cody Jung

Equestrian: Many individuals with cerebral palsy will be familiar with equestrian through participation in therapeutic and recreational horseback riding programs. Para equestrian is inclusive of individuals of GMFCS levels. Events include dressage and even carriage driving.

Paradance Sport: Though it is not included in the Paralympic Game program, this graceful, athletic, wheelchair recreational and competitive sport continues to grow in popularity and is great for individuals with cerebral palsy who use manual and powered wheelchairs (GMFCS 3, 4 and 5). Dances include Latin, waltz, freestyle, foxtrot and many more!

Powerlifting: Powerlifting has been a Paralympic sport since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The ultimate test of physical strength, competitive power lifting consists of the bench press and often athletes lift more the three times their body weight. Suitable for individuals of all GMFCS levels, to safely engage in powerlifting, good stability in upper body and shoulders is mandatory.

Rowing: Para Rowing is an adaptive sport that is inclusive of individuals with cerebral palsy across most GMFCS levels, with the requirement that athletes be able to use their upper body to row a boat. The competitive event involves rowing 1000 meters in 9 competitive classes for men and women.

US Cerebral Palsy Paralympic Rowing Athlete: Tokyo 2020

Laura Goodkind

Sailing: Though not included in the 2020 and 2024 Paralympic roster, Para Sailing is a recreational and adaptive sport that is inclusive of individuals with cerebral palsy across all 5 GMFCS levels. Adaptive or Para sailing can be enjoyed independently or with the assistance of teammates and with a variety of adaptive sail boats.

Shooting Para sport: Parashooting has been a Paralympic event since the Toronto 1976 Games. Athletes from more than 65 countries compete in the sport which involves men’s and women’s and mixed shooting from distances of 10m, 25m and 50 meters. The sport is appropriate for individuals with cerebral palsy of all GMFCS levels.

US Cerebral Palsy Paralympic Para Shooting Athlete: Tokyo 2020

Taylor Farmer

Sitting Volleyball and Beach Para Volleyball: Both sports, sitting and beach para-volleyball, are great team sports inclusive of individuals with varying capabilities. The rules are similar to their non-adaptive sister sports with some adjustments to the number of players on the team. For sitting volleyball, the athlete must be seated on the ground (pelvis must be in contact with the ground) and is appropriate for cerebral palsy athletes GMFCS 1-4 who are able to sit unaided. Whereas Beach Para-Volleyball is for athletes who can compete from a standing position.

Swimming: Swimming is fantastic for everyone and for people with cerebral palsy. It is both a recreational and leisure activity, as well as a Paralympic event. Individuals with cerebral palsy are often competitive para swimmers.

US Cerebral Palsy Paralympic Swimming Athlete: Tokyo 2020

Robert Griswold

Table Tennis: Para Table Tennis was included in the first Paralympics in Rome and has grown to the third largest Paralympic sport and includes athletes from over 100 countries. Appropriate for individuals with a variety of abilities, Para Table Tennis can played both seated and standing, with sporting classes that additionally individuals with learning impairments.  

Taekwondo: Para Taekwondo is an adapted sport based on the ancient martial art of Taekwondo. It is appropriate for individuals who are ambulatory and have milder forms of cerebral palsy or other impairments. Modifications include a prearranged sequence of attack and defense patterns performed by the athlete against an imaginary opponent.

US Cerebral Palsy Paralympic Taekwondo Athlete: Tokyo 2020

Brianna Salinaro

Triathlon: Para Triathlon first debuted in the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016. The competition involves the three-sport combination of swim, bike, run and is open to athletes who are both ambulatory and wheelchair users, although primarily GMFCS 1-3 athletes compete in unaided competition.

Wheelchair Basketball:  Played by teams of 5 players, wheelchair basketball is a fast paced recreational and competitive sport that is appropriate for individuals with cerebral palsy, GMFCS 3 and 4.

Wheelchair Fencing: Appearing in the first Paralympic Games, wheelchair fencing is a popular sport for cerebral palsy athletes GMFCS 3 and 4. This is a beautiful event to watch which is often as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. It is both an individual and a team event.

Wheelchair Rugby: Wheelchair rugby is a popular Paralympic sport that currently includes national teams from 26 countries. Developed specifically for wheelchair athletes, wheelchair rugby is a sport available for disabled athletes, where the wheelchair is an integral aspect of the sport. Wheelchair rugby is appropriate for a variety of functional abilities and currently CPISRA is developing standards for adaptive rugby for ambulatory athletes with cerebral palsy.

Wheelchair Tennis: This Paralympic sport is played by athletes who utilize both manual and powered wheelchairs. Overseen and governed by the International Tennis Federation, the sport has the same rules as tennis for non-disabled individuals, with the exception that the ball is allowed two bounces.

The following sports are not included in the Paralympics but are adaptive sports developed for, and inclusive of individuals with cerebral palsy with a wide variety of abilities:

CP Bowls: CP Bowls is a recreational and competitive sport inclusive of individuals of all abilities which involves rolling a bowl so that it comes as close to the jack (a smaller previously rolled bowl) as possible.

CP Football: Football (soccer) is the world’s most popular sport! CP Football was originally developed by CPISRA to allow individuals with cerebral palsy to participate both recreationally and competitively at an international level. Designed primarily for GMFCS 1-2 and some level 3 athletes, CP Football is played by teams of 7 players who are grouped according to physical ability level.     You can also learn more about CP Soccer in the United States at

In Development for Cerebral Palsy Recreational and Competitive Athletes:

Frame Football: Currently in development by CPISRA, frame football is designed to allow players who utilize a frame for ambulation to play competitively and recreationally.

Frame Running: Already growing in popularity internationally and in the United States, Frame Running utilizes a light-weight frame with large, bicycle tires and a bicycle seat, and chest plate, to support an individual with significant motor impairments as they propel forward. A great sport for all GMFCS levels, Frame Running clubs are popping up all over the US as more and more individuals are participating.

Wheelchair Slalom: Currently in development by CPISRA for individuals with cerebral palsy who use a manual or a powered wheelchair. With seemingly endless possibilities, wheelchair slalom involves navigating the chair through a series of obstacles and levels of difficulty.